Introduced by Steven Cairns
HD video, color, sound, 19' 50''
A man performs the same ritual every day: he cleans his shoes, dresses up in his shiny blue suit, wears his white gloves and grey hat, and spends his time walking around Brazzaville. His presence generates an absurd apparition in the urban chaos of the city, which reflects the imaginary produced by one of the upmost icons of pop culture.
Artist-filmmaker Wojtek Doroszuk discusses some of the origins of his practice and the starting points for Prince (2014). The film follows a young Congolese man with unique preoccupations, as he walks from his home to the outskirts of town to participate in a mesmerising performance.
Steven Cairns: How does Prince, 2014, relate to your wider practice and your other films?
Wojtek Doroszuk: Connections come to mind in some of the performative guided tours that I made. One of them, Free Cracow Tour (2005), sees a group of tourists, unaware they are being tricked, led by a guide who was intentionally distorting the information being told – the town described simply didn't exist. In 2008, during my residency in Ankara, Turkey, I realized Birkaç Yer / Some Places (2008). I asked Toprak, a well-known figure in Turkey's transgender scene, to draw an alternative, subjective map of Ankara, based on his personal experiences. The film was recorded through the window of a taxi, driving from one traumatically marked place to another (as Marcin Krasny, a curator, wrote in a text to the film screening in Zamek Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, "the inside of the car resembles a bathyscaphe in which accidental and strange people survived horrible catastrophe"). Toprak's Ankara becomes more and more terrifying as the night darkens the city; gradually, a capital of a few million turns into a hell of ‘the other’. Most of my works came into being on a journey. My status of a stranger and the fact I am ‘somewhere else’ (which is quite a constant state in my life), is definitely one of the most important factors in my practice. Being a stranger, I naturally gravitate towards eccentrics and outsiders and that often results in artistic collaborations.
SC: Was it always your intention to make a film in The Republic of the Congo?
WD: I went to Congo for the first time in December 2010 – not specifically to work on a project (although I had some ideas). I travel with my video camera (I’ve come up with ideas for some of my projects while travelling on non-artistic trips). After a few days, I was completely devoted to making My Brazza (2010), a video project based on a guided tour around Brazzaville, where my guide improvised affirmative stories, drawing an ideal city of his dreams, with its peaceful history and promising future, a place governed by smart politicians, respectful to the law and habitants. From first sight of the town one can see a dramatic crack between the guide’s descriptions and the facts. After all, Brazzaville is one of those tired African capitals, hit by two major civil wars, consumed by omnipresent corruption, lack of sufficient infrastructure, education and public services. I left Congo with unfinished work and a plan to come back later, better prepared, knowing how to cooperate with locals and how to deal with militants, soldiers, security service and the difficult situations they often caused. As it turned out, My Brazza was never finished. In spite of that, I started preparations for a second trip to Congo, which became possible in late 2013. My idea for the new project differed considerably from the previous one. I decided to change the position of my subject, thus we would not follow the streets of Brazza through the gaze of our guide, but follow the guide in person. Here, the city – with its pointing fingers and thousand eyes – follows the character. The camera is nothing but one of them and in Prince, it occupies the oppressive position of a mob.
SC: How did you meet the film’s subject?
WD: During my first stay I was in a bar in Brazzaville listening to a jazz band from Kinshasa, when a boy dressed like Michael Jackson appeared and spontaneously joined the musicians with his choreographed moves. That’s how I met Elohim Prince Ntsiete – ‘Jackson de Brazza’ (he's the son of Gaudé – an African Frank Sinatra). Prince is well-known in Brazzaville, together with the sapeurs (Congolese "caste" of dandies) and other originals he makes up the local colour of the capital.
SC: Who is he? Why were you interested in making a portrait of him?
WD: He’s a teenager completely devoted to his passion – dance. Impersonating Michael Jackson is a way to manifest it and to pay a tribute to his idol (MJ is still the most popular Western singer in Sub-Saharan Africa). Prince believes he is in direct contact with God while dancing, and that God actually dances through him. For most people he is simply known as ‘Jackson’ since he can be often seen fully dressed in MJ's costume, wandering around the town. His performance is preceded by the everyday ritual of becoming the star – cleaning his shoes, polishing them, ironing his shiny costume, putting on his white gloves, a hat... I always feel great admiration for those who function in societies like atoms, orphaned in their oddity, brave and smart enough to fight for their internal freedom - despite ostracism, intolerance, aggression or even death threats. One can call them the last romantics. Fascinated by Elohim in 2010, I decided to devote an entire project to him three years later.
SC: How choreographed or involved were you in the action taking place?
WD: I chose locations and set the major idea – Prince is passing a city, its residential, commercial and suburban areas, to join musicians waiting for him by the Congo River to perform Le Boucheron by Franklin Boukaka. All the reactions on the streets and those from Prince himself were spontaneous. In that way, the film clearly has documentarian value.
SC: How closely does your practice relate to that of a documentary maker?
WD: On the one hand it is true that I barely work with purely fictional forms, but on the other hand I have made few documentaries and honestly I feel neither confident in it nor fulfilled by them. However, real places and phenomena, people with their stories are usually a starting point for my further work. I prefer to treat observational study as a base, as a matter I can cut and fold, manipulate and transform, not as an aim in itself. It sometimes begins with coincidental meetings, spontaneously turning into long-term collaborations (Call Me Poetic, 2010; Tumor Imaginis, 2008; Birkaç Yer/Some Places and Raspberry Days, 2008; Shalom Chantal, 2007 all involved people who I met accidentally – in the New York subway, in a morgue, during a party in Ankara, on a raspberry farm in Norway, via an article in newspaper...). Through soft direction and with formal means, I intend to create something autonomous, slipping from reportage or classical documentary, respectful for the peculiarity of a place and character, flirting with fiction, yet still anchored in living experience.
Direction, Cinematography, Editing: Wojtek Doroszuk1st assistant, Photography: Matthieu Maunier-Rossi2nd assistant: Cléo Konongo
With Elohim "Prince" NtsieteAnd the musicians: Kitcho Batola, Morgane Bangissa, Malone Jude Bayimissa, Freda Ganga, Kermess, Nicolas Moumbounou
Production: Rictus | David BobeeWith support of: Les Indépendances
Special thanks to: Sylvain Cochard, Philippe Chamaux, Ella Ganga, Samuel Kidiba, Davy Malonga
The presentation of Wojtek Doroszuk’s Prince results from his participation in screening “The Day After Everyday” by curator and writer Sebastian Cichocki, which formed part of the “Artist’s Film Biennial” screening programme at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 3-6 July 2014.