Minicine is proud to showcase the story of Benda Bilili! (2011), the first film from our much anticipated African Cinema season, a documentary filled with equal portions of music, rhythm, spirit and humour.
Award winning documentarians Renaud Barret and Florent de la Tullaye follow an aspiring Congolese street band from their humble beginnings at a shelter for the physically handicapped, the members composed from a mixture of its disabled inhabitants and the street children employed to push their wheelchairs, to the rapturous crowds and bright lights of European festivals and concerts.
Barret and de la Tullaye were so impressed by the talent and resilience of the Staff Benda Bilili that they bank rolled the project themselves, funding time in a recording studio in the hopes of producing an album. The resulting hour and a half provides a glimpse into the inspiring and uplifting journey that took place over the following five years, as the band progresses from raw rehearsals to polished performances on some of Europe’s biggest stages; the highlight being a Hendrix inspired solo from Roger, the youngest of the group, who has mastered his homemade instrument to incredible effect. The teenager once sold his school books to help fund his music career, and ends the film finally being able to provide what he dreamt about in a candid speech when he first learnt of the project- the ability to provide for his mother and younger brother.
Their music, which tackles issues of poverty, crime and disability, is always soulful and upbeat, and made all the more powerful by the constant reminders that not just passion lies behind their determination to create an album, but the need to make a living, to buy a house, or even just the luxury of sleeping on a mattress.
However, the band faces unforeseen challenges in their quest to become “The world’s next idol”, including a fire that tears through their beloved shelter, leaving them homeless (“It happens. That’s life”), and forces them to temporarily disband. Their optimism and self- belief in the face of adversity never wavers though, and even endures the loss of the recording space, resulting in a resourceful and creative move to the local zoo. This culminates in one of the best sequences of the film- Benda Bilili doing what they do best, putting “their problems- like sleeping on cardboard- aside” to triumphantly complete the recording of the album against the noisy night time soundtrack of Kinshasa zoo, a lively and musical backdrop in its own right.
When the group’s album finally hits the shelves, they are faced with the reality of their dream, embarking on a trip to Europe to play for expectant crowds and VIP guests, a trip that could shape the futures of both themselves and their families….
– Holly Thackeray
The screening will take place next Thursday – April 24th – in the quaint and comfy Palace Picturehouse in Armley Mills Industrial Museum.
Tickets are still available from our online ticket office, but once they’re gone they’re gone so get them while you can!
See you next Thursday.