Hot Docs 2015: Elephant’s Dream

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“The greatest gift life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing” – T. Roosevelt.

While Roosevelt was on to something, he has clearly never had to rebuild a country. Unlike the former US President, the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), after a decade long civil war, have been attempting to rebuild their homeland for the past few years. Elephant’s Dream is neither romantic, nor tragic; it is not a comedy, nor a satire; it’s an honest and a real look at what day to day life is like for a country waiting to get back on its feet.

Kristof Bilsen’s film follows several individuals forced to cope with the realities of their environment. Henriette, a civil servant in a bank/post office, hasn’t been paid in weeks and is trying to do what she can to actually do her job. However, in a country with no money, there’s not a lot of action at the bank until businesses finally agree to upgrade their technology and Henriette is forced to learn a new software. Simon, another hard worker in the film, is a guard at a train station in Kinshasa where trains hardly ever arrive. He would like to do work that matters, or even retire, but the structure of the organization is such that he seems fated to sit in a chair all day listening to music.

One of the best parts of Elephant’s Dream is the way in which music is incorporated. When driving through Kinshasa, looking at the new construction or abandoned buildings, we hear the music in the streets. French speaking singers and rappers flood the streets with melodies about daily life in DRC. The combination of the way Bilsen captures the city, the music, and the heartfelt lyrics about living in a country that is waiting for life to begin hits home. It accurately captures what it really feels like to be in many African cities. I’ve lived in Libreville, the capitol of Gabon (also French speaking and not far from DRC) and in Kenya, outside of Nairobi. Both of those countries have had political stability for many years, but there is always that element of waiting.

As I said above, this film isn’t trying to show a perfect view or make a political statement about corruption or poverty, nor romanticize the beauties of a majestic country. While all of these ideas appear in Elephant’s Dream, Bilsen makes none of them the focus, but rather part of the whole. So often Africa, and each country within it, is portrayed as less than the pieces we know and more than what we imagine. In Elephant’s Dream, Bilsen tries to show that it’s exactly the sum of its parts.

Screens
Tuesday, April 28, 6:15 PM, Scotiabank Theatre
Thursday, April 30, 5:00 PM, Scotiabank Theatre
Saturday, May 2, 7:00 PM, Scotiabank Theatre

Tickets can be purchased at the Hot Docs website.