Up at Night

17 September 2020

Run Time

21 mins
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Up at Night

In a Kishasha neighbourhood faced with near-constant power outages, residents find creative solutions to the lack of light. The promise of a consistent source of electricity is found in the construction of a hydropower scheme, long in development but not yet completed. The practical and philosophical implications of living in darkness are pondered in this short film.

The Grand Inga hydroelectric project—the world’s largest proposed hydro-power scheme—promises to bring a permanent power source to the Democratic Republic of Congo, but when?

In Up at Night, Nelson Mankengo shows the residents of a Kinshasha neighbourhood’s creative approach to continual power outages caused by promises unfulfilled and finances revoked.

The film was originally conceived as a photography project. After studying at La Femis’s summer school in Paris, Makengo returned to the DRC and began mapping out the Kinshasha neighbourhoods as they were lit up by different light sources. Then, with additional funding, the installation merged into a film.

In a screen split three ways, images flicker; some scenes come close to total darkness. As the residents of the neighbourhood find creative solutions by using portable LED lights, Makengo shines a light on the effects of living in a state of uncertainty. The thrum of a generator rumbles intermittently throughout; a background noise that is at the centre of the soundscape. The camera focuses on young people who question the decisions of the ruling class, while a disembodied voice of an authority figure plays through small portable radios—the voice of Joseph Kabila, former President of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The children’s faces are lit up by flower shaped lights, as if posing the question: is there hope for a brighter future?

For Makengo, the philosophical question of what it means to live in this way has more importance than the political situation that enabled it: “People no longer say they will wait for electricity, they organise and appropriate the question of light. What matters in the film is not politics, but how Congolese observe their reality wherever they are. Politics, we cannot escape. In Congo, everything always brings us back to politics … But how do we perceive all the reinvention of light?” —Myriam Mouflih

Director Biography

Nelson Makengo (1990, Kinshasa, DR Congo) is a photographer, filmmaker and producer. He is a graduate from The Academy of Fine Arts in Kinshasa and La Fémis in Paris. He has directed six short films which have been screened at the Sao Paulo International Film Festival, Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival (France) and de Saint-Louis Documentary Film Festival (Senegal), among others. He was one of the 10 Congolese artists selected to participate in the 2017 Atelier Picha (Lubumbashi). In 2018, Makengo presented his film E’ville at the Lubumbashi Biennal and was artist-in-residence at Wiels Contemporary art centre (Belgium).

Director Filmography

Up at Night (2019), E’ville (2018), Théatre Urbain (2017), Tabu (2017), Souvenir d’un été (2017)

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Primary Contact

Nelson Makengo


Nicole Saar