We will not be forgotten...
Just remember this: We will not be forgotten... Courtesy of SIFF

Here is a war you probably never heard about. The belligerents: the black African states of Uganda and Rwanda. The horror lasted for six days in 2000, erupted around the Congolese city of Kisangani, and ended with around 1500 lifeless bodies and 3000 wounded bodies. The film Downstream to Kinshasa, directed by Dieudo Hamadi, is about a few men and women who are members of the latter group. They lost limbs, property, and peace of mind in the war, which is now mostly forgotten. All they want, at this point, 20 years after the conflict, is compensation from the government and recognition of the catastrophe.

121 years after Joseph Conrad described a fictional character, Charles Marlow, who went up the Congo River to find an Ivory trader who had lost his mind making madness out of money, the war-maimed men and woman of Kisangani go down the Congo River to make their case in Kinshasa, the capital of the resource-rich country.

That's the story. But what makes this film a work of cinema, which it certainly is? The answer is found in the cinematography, which is by the director and writer of the work, Hamadi. The real star of this film is black skin itself.

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Hamadi's camera is like a spaceship that constantly explores, probes, reveals the new worlds of blackness. There is black skin with the sheen of sweat, black skin exposed to little or no light, black skin outside and under the bright sun. Black skin is actually deep. It has many layers, like the surface of a deep body of water. And there are times when it has a beauty, which has been ignored for most of cinema's 100-year history, that's preternatural. We now live in an age that has black skin finally coming alive like never before. As with the brilliant black American cinematographer Bradford Young, Hamadi is on a mission to put color into people of color.

There is a message or political function to be found in Hamadi's aesthetic elaboration of black skin. Its many-textured and constantly changing levels and tones is what often restores the humanity of its subjects. The man who no longer walks straight has at this moment, a scintillating black forehead; or the woman with a prosthetic leg has at that moment, cheeks whose brownness almost vibrates. Before you see their pain, you see their beauty. Before you feel sorry for them, you extol them. Between these extremes is the human being.

Read more about our top SIFF recommendations here. The digital fest runs through April 18.