Congolese film produced by former BYU professors premieres in Sandy

Bruce Young helps his son, Michael Young, find his ticket at the red carpet premiere of “Heart of Africa.” (Hannah Petersen)

The movie “Heart of Africa,” produced by former BYU English professors Bruce and Margaret Young, premiered in Sandy Wednesday night.

The film is the first Congolese-American film to have native Congolese actors and directors and to be completely filmed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Those in attendance at the premiere had the opportunity to meet the producers, directors and actors in addition to watching the movie.

During a Q&A held after the film, Bruce Young encouraged audience members to support the film. “We need you to invite your friends. We need you to come again and just help this succeed because it really is a labor of love and its purpose is to help.”

Brandon Ray Olive (left) answers questions and shares stories about filming the “Heart of Africa” during the Q&A after the premiere of the movie. Tshoper Kabambi (center) and Margaret Young listen (right). (Hannah Petersen)

Film co-star Brandon Ray Olive said the priemere was the first time he’d seen the full cut of the film. He was surprised to see fellow crew members acting and “killing it” and asked himself, “When did they shoot that?”

Director Tshoper Kabambi then explained that Olive was unaware of the care and worry that Kabambi and the rest of the Congolese crew had for Olive.

Local law enforcement had originally come to arrest Olive because he was the only white cast member and they believed Olive would make them a lot of money in bribes or ransom. Kabambi said another crew member took Olive’s place and was arrested for “some hours” but was later released.

Kabambi said he and the crew reassured Olive repeatedly, but the situation was very serious. The crew often had to finish filming scenes without Olive for his protection.

“He didn’t know this, but we did that many times,” Kabambi said.

In the LDS Film Festival Q&A that occurred last week in Orem, Olive and producers Margaret and Bruce answered more questions about the background of the film. They said one of the main languages of the DRC, Lingala, didn’t have a word for “imagination.” Olive reiterated this at the Red Carpet Premiere and said the government was initially hostile to Olive and other participants in the film because “storytelling is not common there.”

“There’s a lot of fear around certain things being exposed that they don’t want to have exposed,” Olive said.

He said that the government officials tried “grabbing” him. Once the officials understood the purpose of the film, “they invited us to national television and put us on air!”

Kabambi and the rest of the crew said their purpose in telling the story was to show the hope and possibilities the Congolese can create for themselves cinematically. They hope the showing in America will show how the Congo really is.

Tshoper Kabambi signs posters for the film he directed “Heart of Africa” after its red carpet premiere. (Hannah Petersen)

Menou Tchako, a native-born Congolese woman who lives in Provo, attended the premiere. She said her father was from the DRC and her mother from Burundi. She still visits her family in Africa with her sons.

She said on her most recent trip, she experienced first hand the corruption that plagues Africa. She was appreciative of the film’s attempts to address corruption in the DRC.

“I think it is good to talk about, even if you don’t go deep and talk about it, better to bring it up, because if you don’t do it, it’ll never stop,” Tchako said.

She did share, though, that the film did more than expose corruption.

“It helped me to present the Congo; it helped me present Africa. It helped to show the American people and to show the brothers and sisters in this country that it’s not what you see on TV,” she said. “There is more to the Congo and people need to see it.”

Friends and family of the Youngs attended, as well. Their neighbor, Pamela Boshard, had known about the project many years prior. Upon seeing the finished product, she said, “The innocence and rawness of humanity was so stirring.”

BYU sophomore Kimberly Madden had similar feelings. “I like the themes that it had with forgiveness and unity and a story that is more than just a person or a missionary,” she said.

Brandon Purdie, the founder of Purdie Distributions, said he was involved in the project after meeting with Margaret Young.

He said Margaret’s passion for the project and all the obstacles the project had overcome to even begin made him think.

“We can’t as an industry and as a market let this film come and go or go directly to DVD, we have to put an exclamation point on it and make sure everybody sees it,” he said.

“Heart of Africa” opens state-wide in Megaplex and Cinemark theatres on Friday, March 13.

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