Review: ‘Kapita’ (2021) dir. Petna Ndaliko Katondolo

by Matthias De Groof

Kapita (2021), Petna Ndaliko Katondolo’s latest film and a selection at this year’s Berlinale (Forum Expanded), is a film about mining – through the mining of film. Kapita integrates archival footage from colonial propaganda films in ways that force us to rethink the assumed relation between the represented (mining) and the representation (film). In Kapita, the represented is both distorted and revealed by the representation. Literally. Whereas the footage from Panorama Star of Congo (1912) and Le fonctionnement d’une bourse de travaille (1926) was presented by colonial agents as if it were a transparent truthful window into reality, Kapita breaks that window to reveal the reality of erasure. 

Instead of reproducing aesthetics of (ostensible) transparency, Kapita makes the window itself visible, as a reality of a representation that lies about colonisation as a philanthropic and civilizing project, and the reality of an extractivism that reduces humans to function and form and ultimately annihilates them. Human functions and forms are melted and moulded like copper is melt and moulded. 

Petna Ndaliko Katondolo reveals these realities of representation (instead of the representations of realities) by “recoding aesthetics”: mining the colonial propaganda films for what they make invisible, and revealing what they conceal. 

Exposing the archive’s false claim of transparency and truth makes apparent its opaqueness and lies. Memory here, as lived experience, reveals the archive’s bias and erasure in the image itself. This erasure is not simply the cancelling out of what remains hors cadre, outside of the frame. 

Producer Dr. Chérie Rivers Ndaliko, explains that the idea of the film emerged when Petna Ndaliko Katondolo “[…] was looking at these archival images and all of the sudden he shouts: ‘look, what do you see?’ I could only see grainy textures. He continued: ‘There are people in there. They literally buried us alive in these images.’” 

Applying different processes to the archival footage enabled Petna Ndaliko Katondolo to see Black bodies that remained invisible because the cameras were calibrated to capture white skin. Through cinematic excavation – not the representation of mining, but the mining of representation – the film is also a historic redress. 

The viewer who would perceive such redress as a sign of historic progress is immediately confronted with this delusion when seeing the juxtaposition of the archival material with contemporary shots of similar gestures extracting minerals from mines and extracting life from bodies. The “colonial present” then, is revealed not so much by this new footage, but more so by the editing that shows continuities between the colonial past and the now. Moreover, it shows coloniality as extractivism. 

The “Kapita”, derived from captain, or “the person in command”, is precisely the crucial figure allowing this continuity. Like the comprador, sondercommando or Binza, the Kapita holds a relatively privileged position and hence maintains an interest in the status quo. With this film, Petna Ndaliko Katondolo asks us: who is the Kapita here? You, the viewer? The question is difficult, since chances are high that the viewer indirectly profits from the suffering he or she is witnessing on-screen, a screen that contains the minerals from mines that – as the images from the archive do – bury workers alive.

Petna Ndaliko Katondolo is a multi-genre artist whose decolonial Africanfuturistic work engages historical content to address contemporary sociopolitical and cultural issues. In addition to serving as Artistic Director of Yole!Africa and Alkebu Film Productions, Ndaliko Katondolo teaches and consults regularly for international organizations, addressing social and political inequity among marginalized groups through culture and education. He currently splits his time between his hometown of Goma, DRC and Chapel Hill, USA, where he is Artist in Residence at the Stone Center for Black History and Culture at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Matthias De Groof is a Belgian filmmaker and scholar. His films (“Lobi Kuna”, “Palimpsest”…) have been presented at venues like the IFFR, FIFA and the Berlinale. His edited book “Lumumba in the Arts” reached the top-100 “books to escape the news”. He has held fellow appointments at the New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and the Waseda University in Tokyo.

For further bookings of Kapita, you can contact the Sambaza Collective

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