On 1 October, I attended the film screening of ‘Stop Filming Us’, directed by Joris Postema, organized by Africa Study Center Leiden at Leiden University. In 2010, Joris Postema worked as a filmmaker for a western NGO in Goma, in northeastern Congo. During that time, the Western aid organization forbade Postema to move freely in Goma and he had to stay in a guarded hotel, because of safety risks. Ten years later, Postema went back to Goma, and instead of a Western NGO he worked with a local organization from Goma. According to Postema, he had two different experiences of the same city; in the beginning Goma felt as ‘the most dangerous place on earth’, while the second time it felt like ‘a completely different city’.
‘Stop Filming Us’ investigates how Western stereotypes are the result of power balances. Especially the prevalent western reporting about sadness and sorrow in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The aim of the movie is to establish a cinematic dialogue between how Congolese experience their reality and western perceptions. Even though there is much space for the Congolese point of view, one can ask a question about the perspective of the filmmaker. For instance, what was Joris his role as director, was he able as a Dutch man to make a film about the perceptions of the Congolese? Or is the movie still influenced by his own western perspective?
The film screening was followed by a discussion with Joris Postema and other guests. The overall discussion showed beloved comments to the director. Yet, I was wondering how the Dutch media reviewed ‘Stop Filming Us’. On the hand of critical discourse analysis, I compare one ‘positive’ article and one ‘negative’ article about the movie ‘Stop Filming Us’. The positive article is from the Dutch newspaper Het Parool and the negative article is written for the website of the magazine One World. I compare the two articles using a close reading method. I focus especially on textual elements like argumentation and word choice. I will focus mainly on the critique points made in the article of One World, where the author states that ‘Stop Filming Us’ never should be made. I will analyze how the article of Het Parool frames the critique points of the article of One World in a positive way.
The movie that should never have been made
“The movie that should never have been made”, that is the opinion of Emiel Martens, who wrote a critical review about ‘Stop Filming Us’. Martens is an assistant professor of Postcolonial Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam and Erasmus University Rotterdam. First of all, Martens argues that in the field of post-colonial media studies, Postema thinks in a way of racial essentialism: “attributing specific characteristics and behaviours to groups of people because of their racial identity (or racial ‘essence’) (Martens, 2020)”. Martens accuses Joris of this mindset because, the movie is based on the central question of the Dutch director: “As a Western filmmaker, am I able to show Congolese reality?” By asking this question, Postema assumes that he cannot be a postcolonial filmmaker because of his western background. Martens answers the central question of the Dutch director: “In short, the question of Postema if he, as a Western filmmaker, is capable of making a non-colonial film in the Congo has already been answered in advance: that’s possible, as long as he directs a critical-analytical postcolonial lens to the subject (Martens, 2020)”.
However, according to Martens, Postema lacks the competence to be self-reflexive and to be critical about his own position. An example of the lack of self-reflection is the scene where Postema asks Congolese people, including his own film crew if he can stay or not to continue his movie. Different opinions are given, however, the overall conclusion is that it would be better that Postema leaves Congo. Postema is especially shocked by the fact that his own translator said that he should leave the country. His translator argues that Postema’s role is not really necessary, because people in Congo could make a movie like this by themselves. Martens describes that: “The incident, and especially Postema’s shock reaction, shows that the filmmaker does not understand his own problematic position and is thus not aware of the history of colonial representation and the current postcolonial sensitivities in the Congo (Martens, 2020)”.
Nevertheless, Het Parool, gives a different perspective about the same scene. According to Moll, who is a journalist and columnist, the film shows that Postema cannot do anything right, and he is not able to show the real reality of Goma. However, Moll is not critical about Postema’s self-reflection. Furthermore, Moll states that: “His being white gets in his way, according to the locals, but also according to his interpreter and more people involved in the making of the film (Moll, 2020)”. So Moll uses the word ‘white’ to describe why Postema should not have made the movie. Also, the question if Postema should leave Congo or not is differently viewed by Het Parool. Moll gives the following description: “Nevertheless, he provides insight into where the bottlenecks are (Moll,2020)”. In this sentence, he, refers to Postema. So Moll notes that Postema stresses by himself the bottlenecks about postcolonialism. While in the movie, the Congolese themselves raise the postcolonial issues of the role of Postema.
So, the ‘negative’ article of One World is more theoretical and analytic than the article of Het Parool. This is because Martens analyzes the movie via his own perspective as a university professor of Postcolonial Media Studies. Even though I was aware of the fact that the article of One World was way more in-depth, I chose the article of Het Parool as a comparison, because Martens refers in his article that this was one of the Dutch newspapers which gave a laudatory review. One of the biggest differences is how Postema is described by the authors. Martens does not describe Postema as being a white man, in comparison to Moll. Martens uses other words to describe the position of Joris for instance ‘problematic position’ and ‘western filmmaker’. According to Martens, it is not about being white, if you are able to make a (postcolonial) movie about Congo as a western, but it is about if the filmmaker uses a critical analytical postcolonial lens. Moreover, Martens concludes that ‘Stop Filming Us’ should never have been made. While Moll argues that it is a movie that everyone should see.
Martens, E. (2020a, mei 1). Stop Filming Us: De film die inderdaad niet gemaakt had moeten worden. OneWorld. https://www.oneworld.nl/lezen/opinie/stop-filming-us-de-film-die-nooit-gemaakt-had-mogen-worden/
Martens, E. (2020b, juni 2). Stop Filming Us | The Film That Should Never Have Been Made – ZAM. ZAM https://www.zammagazine.com/perspectives/blog/990-stop-filming-us-the-film-that-should-never-have-been-made
Moll, M. (2020, 1 april). Toont een westerling de Congolese werkelijkheid in Stop Filming Us? Het Parool. https://www.parool.nl/nieuws/toont-een-westerling-de-congolese-werkelijkheid-in-stop-filming-us~b3dcc89d/