ACT Human Rights Film Festival: ‘Mama Colonel’ doesn’t pull any punches

Ty Davis

If the last few years has not robbed you of your empathy, then brace yourself to watch this movie. “Mama Colonel” almost made me cry where I sat.

Sexual and child abuse are prevalent problems in the Democratic Republic of Congo, particularly during the last instances of war in the country, but also during times of peace. So large is the issue of rape in the Congo, that it has been referred to as one of the least safe places on earth for women.

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Beliefs in mysticism and witchcraft are prominent among a subset of Congolese people. However, much of this belief is directed toward children, as it is believed that children are particularly strong conduits for evil forces. Many parents and community members will resort to abusive practices in an attempt to “purge” the evil they believe is in the child.

Honorine Munyole, the titular Mama Colonel, is the head of a specialized police unit charged with handling cases of abused women and children. Her unit also oversees the protection of these women and children by setting them in an overseen community that acts as a refuge for them.

The film opens on Munyole’s last day in the city of Bakavu as she prepares to move to Kisangani, while also saying good-bye to those in the community who she has helped. One woman even implores Munyole to take her child with her, for fear they will not be safe without her. Once there, Munyole deals with establishing herself in her new unit and the community, facing dissenting voices in the community and groups calling sexual abuse survivors “fake victims” and establishing a new community for women and children.

During the films Q&A sessions, Munyole had a lot to say about both her career and her thoughts on the issues. Not only has she been working for the police for 18 years now, she was also the first person charged with leading a women and children protection unit. She also revealed that since the film took place she has been transferred to a Wamba, where she oversees the protection and safety of public security forces. When asked about the belief in witchcraft in the Congo, Munyole said that though there is a belief in witchcraft, she believes it is a scapegoat for impoverished people to exercise their frustrations on their children.

“Mama Colonel” is the type of documentary that refuses to pull any punches. Unwavering, unflinching and honest are all the reasons this is not only a great documentary, but a commendable one. There is no voice over during the entire film, the director lets the images speak for themselves. At times, what you see can be overwhelming, but it is exactly this unfiltered look at the situation that was one of the reasons documentaries were created in the first place.

Despite a lack of production, the film never feels boring or cheap. The whole film is a well-executed work of filmmaking that shows you can be both raw and masterful at how you present your film.

Ty Davis can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @tydavisACW