Hot Docs 2015: Elephant’s Dream (2014)
Kristof Bilsen’s Elephant’s Dream is, at its essence, a story of hope and resilience in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Through portraits of three government workers, Bilsen exposes the seriousness of that nation’s crumbling infrastructure after over a century of colonization, political crisis, war and corruption. We hear a lot these days about crumbling infrastructure in North America – roads, bridges, dams, etc. – but believe me when I tell you, we’ve clearly got nothing on the DR Congo.
Welcome to Kinshasa, where there is only a single fire station for a city of over 9 million. They arrive too late, and the only water they have to douse the flames is what they brought with them – because there aren’t any fire hydrants. The unit works out of a roofless fire station because, ironically, the place burned down a couple of years back. They eat, sleep and train out in the open air while their Lieutenant works to keep them motivated and functioning.
Bilsen’s other two portraits, of Henriette in the post office, and Simon who works guarding one of the nation’s train stations, are similarly fascinating. Dirt-covered mail looks like it’s been sitting around for decades, and there are hardly any customers because no one trusts the mail service. The train stations aren’t much busier. With only a handful of locomotive cars still operating, there’s no such thing as a train schedule, and people are far more likely to be using the station to study in than to get anywhere. At least Henriette and Simon, unlike the firefighters, sometimes get paid a small portion of their monthly salary.
As interesting as a look at DR Congo institutions is, I was more fascinated (and impressed) by the perseverance and equanimity of the individuals – who go to work every day (usually without pay), and who keep moving forward despite frequent setbacks and disappointments. They have incredible spirit.
Visually speaking, there’s a quiet beauty and stillness to this film that I really liked, static shots that give the audience a real feel for the pace and the environment. Despite the inherent tragedy of the country’s history, it’s a sincerely hopeful film, affectionately rendered. It’s also good food for thought for those of us living in an era of budget cuts and inadequate infrastructure spending.
Screening Times for Elephant’s Dream
Tue, Apr 28, 6:15 PM Scotiabank Theatre
Thu, Apr 30, 5:00 PM Scotiabank Theatre
Sat, May 2, 7:00 PM Scotiabank Theatre
Gallery for Elephant’s Dream