“This Is Congo” is not an easy documentary to watch. And anyone who knows anything about the tumultuous, war-torn country would understand that from the get-go. Still, despite expectations, it is an engaging, if unsettling, film about the decades of violence that have ravaged the central African country, the poverty and displacement that has abounded, and all the stolen promise of a land so rich in culture and resources. Which, it might be argued, is to say it is a film about the Democratic Republic of Congo. And while “This Is Congo” is an immersive and captivating film that features incredible and upsetting footage of bloody battles filmed by director and cinematographer Daniel McCabe, it is a scattershot of characters and consequences that manage to capture what is undoubtedly a piece of the truth of the region, while also somehow feeling incomplete.
“This Is Congo” starts with the war. It is a war that has been raging for at least two decades, mostly between the government forces and the many rebel groups that control vast swaths of the resource-rich eastern portion of the country, which is far-removed from the capital of Kinshasa. Trapped in the grips of this conflict are four people upon whom the film builds its story: a young and popular military commander, a whistleblower elsewhere in the army, an illegal mineral trader, and a displaced tailor. Their stories, without ever overlapping or connecting, come together to paint a grisly picture of the war — both of those who fight it and those whose lives are irrevocably impacted by it. The conflict at the heart of the film is over the battle for Goma, a city situated in the North Kivu province on the border with Rwanda. When the film begins, in 2012, rebels are threatening the town and the young military commander, Mamadou, is tasked with pushing them back.