Fillip De Boeck is professor of anthropology in Belgium and Congo. The last twenty years he has been spending much time in the heart of Congo: Kinshasa. In Cemetery State his first and according him last documentary he has been focusing on the way the citizens of Kinshasa are dealing with cemeteries and funerals in our days. According De Boeck, or maybe it would be better to say according the description of the documentary, this movie shows how ‘mourning rituals and funerals have become moments of upheaval and contestation of social and political orders’. The main character is the leader of gang who dig graves in the jungle of Kintambo, one of the oldest cemeteries of Kinshasa. These people make their living out of grave digging. Another story line is what happens when a young person dies. In particular the youth plays here a crucial role as they claim the dead body and blame the family of the dead person for witchery practices. The families cannot bury their own children and have to hide for some days because things can get quite violent.
There is no sign of resistance or revolt against the state in this movie even though it claims to show exactly this aspect. Rather a few banal offends towards the present president we don’t get to see. It remains unclear what the maker of this movie wanted to show. In fact when asked what is the message of his documentary during the talk with public after the presentation of the movie, De Boeck replied ‘I don’t have a message and I didn’t have a message in mind when I made this movie’. Well, this is what you get when academics believe they make research, teach and on top of that also make movies. The picture we get is not just unclear but also very paternalistic. And the latter is very disturbing taking in account the director of the movie is an anthropologist. What is also disturbing is the fact that many ‘respected’ culture organizations have been sponsoring this project and getting this documentary on screen during Festival des libertes/Vrijheidsfestival isn’t the best choice was made by the organizers of this edition. Lets hope De Boeck will keep his word and stay away from making other movies ‘without message’.