NAIROBI, Kenya — Six years ago a South African movie called Tsotsi about a small-time gangster made the crossover into the mainstream. It was written, shot by and starred South Africans yet won awards around the world including the Oscar for best foreign language film and was seen by many outside the rarified circles of Afro-cinephiles.
Tsotsi challenged preconceived ideas about what African film is and what it can be, showing there’s more to the continent’s industry than the hammy acting and homemade aesthetic of Nollywood’s hilariously bad morality tales.
Now a Congolese film is set to do the same. Viva Riva! is set in Kinshasa, the chaotic capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where hustler Riva arrives with a shipment of stolen petrol just in time to profit from a city-wide shortage.
He’s rich quick and spends his money chasing a girl he meets in a nightclub, who just happens to be another gangster’s moll. The stage is then set for a sexy and violent gangster tale.
It’s already been selected for the Toronto, Berlin and South By Southwest film festivals and was the winner of the African film category in this year’s MTV Movie Awards.
But perhaps more important than how Viva Riva! fares abroad is the fact that it’s being shown across Africa too, opening in 18 different countries and thereby challenging the stranglehold of Hollywood on the continent’s cinema-goers.