Tshoper Kabambi: A Filmmaker's Dream
Carrying a television with a VHS player to school every day became second nature for Tshoper Kabambi. He and his classmates studied film by watching movies on that little TV, discussing everything from lighting to plot. Kabambi believed that if he could learn to tell a story through film, he could finally tell the story of the Congo through the eyes of someone who has lived it.
Meridian Magazine Article: "Heart of Africa: A Film Director in a Country Without Cinemas"
1:40- Life in the Congo
4:37- Conversion Through Dreams
13:02- A Latter-day Saint
15:07- A Big Ticket Premiere
18:20- The Power of Film
24:39- The Significance of Your Story
27:00- Challenges and Blessings as a New Member of the Church
29:34- What Does It Mean To Be “All In” the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
31:00- Testimony in French
Morgan Jones 0:00
A Swedish film director once said, "Film as dream. Film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does and goes directly to our feelings deep down into the dark rooms of our souls." This week, we have a special treat for you as we have two episodes coming, both from filmmakers; one, an indie Congolese filmmaker looking to emerge in the industry and the other a producer for Disney. In 2012, as the film he was seeing finished Tshoper Kabambi remained in his seat. A custodian encouraged him to leave the theater, but he replied "Please, I've never been in a movie theater before." Tshoper believes there is power in stories and power in film, and he is determined to tell his own story and the story of his people through film. He also believes in dreams and it was a story series of dreams that led him to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Now, he is truly living the dream with the film "Heart of Africa" premiering in America this week.
This is All In, an LDS Living Podcast where we ask the question, "What does it really mean to be 'all in' the gospel of Jesus Christ?" I'm Morgan Jones, and I am so grateful to be here today with Tshoper. Tell me your last name?
Tshoper Kabambi 1:29
Morgan Jones 1:31
I'm glad I didn't even try to pronounce that one, that would have gone really well. I'm just working on mastering your first name, then we'll move on to the second. Does that sound good?
Tshoper Kabambi 1:39
That sounds good for me.
Morgan Jones 1:40
Perfect. Well, I am so excited. We have you here all the way from the Congo. That's where you live. Is that right?
Tshoper Kabambi 1:47
I live in Congo in Kinshasa. I live in Kinshasa.
Morgan Jones 1:51
Okay, so tell listeners, I imagine most people listening to this podcast are like me and have never been to the Congo. So tell us a little bit about what life in the Congo is like and kind of the political climate there in your country.
Tshoper Kabambi 2:05
Yeah, first of all people have to know that in the Congo, we are human like everybody, we don't live with animals or, you know, but we have some trouble. Some parts of the Congo, in East especially, we still have war, because you know, Congo is one of the richest countries in the world. We have gold, we have diamonds, we have all kinds of minerals, natural resources, and people around the world will need that. It's why we have a lot of problems. But it's also difficult to, life is difficult because we have a lot of people doesn't have jobs, and people, some of them doesn't get food. There is a lot of problems. But we are also, every time we smile, we pray, we are very hopeful that one time, a day will come, God will help us to have a better life. And this is the politics situation is going better than better because 12 years or 10 years ago, it was very difficult. But now we have a new president Félix Tshisekedi, who have some good things and give some help to Congolese people.
Morgan Jones 3:34
I noticed that you already mentioned God and prayer. Is there a primary religion in Congo? What is most people's religious background?
Tshoper Kabambi 3:45
Most I can say 90% of Congolese are Christian. Most of Congolese people are trusting, trusting God and pray a lot.
Morgan Jones 3:58
Okay. And growing up, were you very religious? What is your religious history?
Tshoper Kabambi 4:06
Yeah, since I was a child, I think, my parents are very, very religious. I think my father and my mother are serving somewhere in a church in Congo since we were very child. And I grown up with Christian religions and I just, I still keep my faith.
Morgan Jones 4:30
Okay, so now that we've got kind of that foundation, you are a filmmaker.
Tshoper Kabambi 4:36
Morgan Jones 4:37
And you started making a film that is about a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Is that right?
Tshoper Kabambi 4:44
Morgan Jones 4:45
Had you ever heard of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before starting to make this film?
Tshoper Kabambi 4:52
I heard but not a lot, because I knew Aime Mbuyi, who is the one who inspired this story, this film story.
Morgan Jones 5:03
Tshoper Kabambi 5:03
And Aime Mbuyi was a friend of mine, but I never seen him. He was a Facebook friend. And Aime Mbuyi, when I met him for the first time, he told me, "Tshoper, I really like your short films. I saw on Facebook one time I was in a screening, and I want to invite you in my church." I was like, um, "I don't know, because I haven't go in a church since 10 years." I just stopped to going to church.
Morgan Jones 5:34
Tshoper Kabambi 5:35
And he started to invite me to go in his church. It was a little bit bizarre for me.
Morgan Jones 5:42
Okay. So did you go to church with him?
Tshoper Kabambi 5:48
When he invited me, it was difficult. I promised him three times that yeah, one Sunday, I will come with you, but I just canceled it, every time I would cancel it. But one time, I got a dream and in my dream I was in LDS church. I had never seen a picture before. I never imagined what it looked like. But I just decided I told my wife today, "I got a dream that I was in an LDS church and never seen that before. But let's go, if we saw what I saw, if we found what I saw in my dream, yeah, we'll keep going there. Let's start, let's try." And she was "What did you see?" I told her, "I see within the church, everything was calm, was good. And there was a mansion. In my dream, I saw Jesus Christ is the way, the life and the truth, something like that. And some mansions." And I told her if we saw that, we stay in the church and she said, yes, good. And we went. I called Aime Mbuyi, he was surprised that I accepted to, finally accepted to go in the church. It was like, "Are you sure?" I say yeah, I'm sure I want to go today and see what, what it looks like. And then when I was in the church, I didn't see what I saw in my dream right on the wall, but I just feel that. I feel myself home. Because, as I say, it was 10 years that I didn't go to the church. I just stopped it to go to the church for many things. And I was losing my faith. But when I was inside for the first time in the LDS church, I feel like home, I feel I kind of peace in myself. I tell to my wife, "Did you feel what I'm feeling?" She said, "Yes, it's just exactly like what you tell me about a church have to be." Yeah, because I was like, imagine a kind of church when I was speaking with my wife. I was telling her what I really like to see like a church in myself. I was like a church you have to be like this, like this and like this. I gave my wife some description about a church from my dream. But I had never been in an LDS church but when we were there, she just told me it's like, exactly your description of church, and I can feel what you are feeling now. It's why I decided to, but it was difficult for me to stay for the first time. I was like, "I cannot stay in a church for just a dream. I cannot."
I was praying just to have all the signs and the second sign was another dream. In my dream, I saw my car just going by itself without a driver. And I was running behind my car and crying. And the car goes into the river, inside the water. And I saw one of the brothers. He was not an elder in the church but he's just a brother in the church. I saw him come and take out my car with just one hand and everybody around was like, "Wow, this man he's very strong." And he told me, "You see? Your car is now new." If you have a car, a car is just a carcass. It's just a simple thing. But if you put it in the water and you take it out, that it will be new. Like that, born for the new time, born again. Yeah, something like that. It was a kind of sign also for me for being baptized. That's, you know, I'm like Etoma, I was like Etoma I was like, "No it's like a dream. It just a dream. I can't believe in the dream." But it was amazing because it was the second time to have this kind of dream.
And the third time, I saw my uncle in my dreams. My uncle died many years ago, he told me "Tshoper, please, I give you a mission. You have to be baptized for save our lives." I can't understand what that means. And I go to one of the brothers to ask him what this dream means. And he called some elders and him, they explained to me that if you are baptized, you can be baptized for your ancestors. And that means a lot of things for me. It's why I decided to stay in the church.
Morgan Jones 11:13
That is amazing. Have you always been a dreamer?
Tshoper Kabambi 11:16
I don't know exactly, but if I have some dreams, and I think, dreams always have sense and give us, sometimes, a way to follow. And since I was a child, I, even my mother and my father was asking me a lot what was my dream because they got some direction on my dream. I think, since I was a child. God sent my family and me some message in the dreams.
Morgan Jones 11:55
Amazing. That's so cool. I think, some people, I think Heavenly Father communicates with people in different ways. And certainly one of those ways is through dreams. We actually had a whole podcast episode about that. So thank you so much for sharing those examples. So then, did you and your wife ended up joining the church?
Tshoper Kabambi 12:15
Yeah, we still have problems with my wife's family. My wife also joined the church, but we still have problems with her family because it's not easy to just become Mormon in my country. Because people don't really know what it is about. People in my country are afraid to get used to some good or new things. And I know that the Church has come in Africa for a long time, but in my country, even for my case, we were just discovering two years or three years ago.
Morgan Jones 12:54
Okay. So you have kids as well.
Tshoper Kabambi 12:57
I have two kids.
Morgan Jones 12:58
Okay. How old are they?
Tshoper Kabambi 13:00
Five and two.
Morgan Jones 13:02
Wow, that's awesome. So tell us a little bit - If the Church is, like, relatively new in the Congo, what is it like to be a member of the Church in the Congo?
Tshoper Kabambi 13:14
Yeah, to tell you the truth, being a member of the Church for the first, if I want to give my example, it's very good for me, but not easy for people around to understand and to accept that. But, even me, I can give a testimony about people I know. Before going to the Church I know as a Mormon, I can just say there are good people who just share love and affection to other people. And it was amazing for me. I asked someone "Are you good because you are Mormon or you are just good men?" You say, "I don't know, I just keep some rules, some God rules." And he told me to just observe other people who are in the Church and observe most of them are good people.
And what I think is that being in the Church brings other experiences. What I like the most in the Church is that there are some good teachings and I like when, I like testimony that helped a lot to keep, have faith. And I told you about my experience; I just feel more love from people, and I feel I have more love to give to the people. And yes, some very, very good, good, good, good things happen.
Morgan Jones 15:07
Good. Glad to hear that. You are a filmmaker.
Tshoper Kabambi 15:11
Morgan Jones 15:12
And I understand that that is pretty unusual in the Congo. I mean, it's unusual here in America. But I was told that this film that you've made, "Heart of Africa," that it is essentially like, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" here, which is this, you know, box office hit film, and that people paid $50 a ticket there in the Congo to attend the premiere. So this is a big deal for your country. What does it mean to you to have this opportunity? And what does this film mean for the Congo?
Tshoper Kabambi 15:51
This film, and what we are trying to do now means a lot for Congolese people and for the Congo. I can say for all Africa, because, you know, most of the film who are made in Africa, are made by European people or American people or other people. But it was important to have someone from Congo making this film. And, it's kind of rebirth of the cinema in my country. You know, cinema can bring dreams to people, can bring imagination. Cinema can teach people a lot, that can also help to share love, to share affection, and to share very good, good things. And for me, I feel that like, I'm very, very blessed to be one of the people who started this movement. That means a lot to us. That yeah, you cannot imagine how people in my country are very, very happy for this film. You can not imagine how now, we can have young people who, who can trust to the themselves, who can trust, who can dream again, because in the past, young people was lost dream, was lost faith before. Because in my country, we don't have industry, movie industry. We don't have schools to learn how to make movies. We don't have distribution systems in my country. We just, we don't have TV. We can't produce some films. And some young just making some short film even me we were making some short film, but it was for going nowhere. And to have a film that can be released in United States, which is the biggest film country in the world, to have the first film, the first Congolese film be released here, means a lot of things for me and some of my filmmaker friends, and for all my country,
Morgan Jones 18:20
You've mentioned that this gives other kids something kind of to inspire them, to allow them to dream. Have you always loved film and wanting to do something like this? or how did you get inspired to do filmmaking?
Tshoper Kabambi 18:38
I think my inspiration from very far away when I was child. When I was a child, because I'm from a very poor family, we wasn't able to have a TV at home. And most of my friends just told me stories about a film they seen on TV. And I was, "Ah, how can I see a film on a TV one day?" I was like 10 years old or 11, but never seen a TV. Remember we don't have cinema in my country. And it was like, I wanted a lot to watch a TV, to watch a film in a TV. I think, my need to want to watch a TV give me also imagination to be a filmmaker, but I don't know that the past. But, when I finished my elementary and my primary school, I went to tell my father that I would like to be a filmmaker. And I was afraid because, you know, my father, he gives everything to send us in school. And he was expecting for us to be doctors or, you know, to do all the schools, and I was afraid he'd say no. But, I was surprised. My father told me, "Are you sure you want to be a filmmaker?" I say yes. My father told me, "I think you are in the good way". He told me, "I think you are in the good way." I say him, "What do you mean by that?" He told me, "My dream was to be a filmmaker, but I never had a chance. If you think that you have a chance to be a filmmaker, that means you are in the good way. And you have my benediction. You have my blessing."
And, but it was a challenge. My mother say, "You know, Tshoper, we don't have money to send you in Iraq or in America to study or to make movies. In our country, we don't have people make movies, we don't have movie schools, there is nothing. Even theaters, we doesn't have all of that. How can you be a filmmaker?" I told to my mother, "Maybe I have to do some drama school. And that will teach me how to make movies. And I will study how to make movies in YouTube, in internet, or something like that." And start my first level at university, and I met the teacher. I told him, "Teacher, why not teach us how to make movies? Because in US and Belgium, you also studied how to make movies. Can you teach us how to make movies?" He told me it's a little bit difficult because, you know, the head of the university, they have to decide and it's difficult. The next day I bring our TV, TV with a VHS tape. I bring that and I say, "Teacher you just have to bring some VHS and we will watch TV and talk about it. That can be a start of film study in this university." And I'm very happy because the university started teaching film that year. I just pushed them to teach people to make movies. And before we got far with that teaching, with that story, I just took my friends and I told them, "Yeah, yeah, we just started how to learn how to make movies. Why not start making movies?" And they were like, "Tshoper, you don't know how to write scripts, you don't know how to film, nobody has a camera!" I just told them we will rent a camera and make movies. And we made our first movies. The first day, we were arrested. And they keep me for four days in the jail without telling my family where I am. It was very difficult. And I just decided after the four days, I just decided to stop making movies. It was very hard for me, very hard for my family. But one of my friends told me, "Tshoper, your destiny is to make movies. You didn't study how to tell stories, but you are a storyteller. Just keep it, and we will support you." Yeah, it's why I just continue to make movies.
Morgan Jones 23:59
So wait, why did you get arrested?
Tshoper Kabambi 24:02
Yeah, the policemen—because remember, I told you, there is no film industry in my country, right? And when they see someone with a camera, you have to be a journalist who is going to do some work. And you are just suspected when you say, "I am a filmmaker, I'm trying to making movies." And it was just, I was just suspected. It was like I'm from CIA or from FBI who try to film some bad stuff. Yeah, you know, it was, it was crazy.
Morgan Jones 24:39
That's wild. Tshoper, I am curious for you—so it seems like the thing that's so cool about you having the opportunity to make this movie and why it means so much to your country, is that we should all have the ability to tell our own stories. Why is that so important to you?
Tshoper Kabambi 25:05
Telling our story is very, very important for me because, you know, Africa has a very huge story and we have to share that story. My country has a very, very huge story, we have to share that. And for me, I'm just tired to see how other people can come to film my people and show them like nothing. I'm just tired of that. What I want is to show my people how beautiful they are. To show them how they can change their situation. To tell them how they can contribute for the better of this world, because we still have a lot of problems in this world, and I think everybody has to contribute for this world being better. And, yeah, it's very, very important for me that African people, me and my friends are telling our story. It's very important.
Morgan Jones 26:16
Yeah, I would agree with that, and I'll tell you why: When I travel somewhere, I always prefer to travel and visit someone that lives in that place because I think there's a big difference between what you get to see if you travel and do like a tour versus what you see when you go visit somebody that is a native of that place. You see the whole area through different eyes. And I love the way that you said, you want your people to see how beautiful they are. Because that's what you see when you see it through the eyes of a person that really loves that place or those people. So thank you for what you're doing with that.
What challenges, you kind of alluded to this earlier, Tshoper, but, what challenges have you faced as a new member of the Church? You've only been, you joined the Church, a year ago? Is that right?
Tshoper Kabambi 27:12
Two years ago.
Morgan Jones 27:13
So what challenges might a new member, a brand new member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints face that people might not consider?
Tshoper Kabambi 27:23
For me, the biggest challenge was the accepting of all the people. Yeah, the big challenge is, is that. Other people who doesn't know anything about the Church, who just have some imaginations, bad imagination of the Church, who doesn't know other members of the Church, they are like, "Uh, you don't have to pray there, Tshoper, you don't know these people. It's an American church." And yeah, it's not our culture. I think that was the big challenge for me.
Morgan Jones 28:05
And why would you say that you're grateful that you are a member of the Church?
Tshoper Kabambi 28:11
I'm just grateful, first of all, because all members of the church I know, even in my country, are very good people who just try to, to share love. And, they help also, they help me to keep in the right, the straight way. I think if we want to go far, we have to be with people who are good. And I think, I'm very grateful because now even in Congo, or in America, or anywhere else, I can be with people who would just love other people. For me, the most important, what I discovered in the Church is that church members doesn't just love church members. They love everybody. And they share, they try to share this love and to be an example for what someone can do. I don't know if you understand.
Morgan Jones 29:24
Yeah, they see people's potential. Yes, they recognize the good and other people,
Tshoper Kabambi 29:30
Yes, they trust people, other people. Even they that are not from the Church.
Morgan Jones 29:34
Yeah, hopefully that's how we are. I feel like sometimes we fall a little bit short, but I'm glad that that has been your experience. Before we wrap up, I just have one last question for you and that is, what does it mean to you to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Tshoper Kabambi 29:53
Yeah, that means a lot. That means a lot. I'm not from America, you can not imagine how many problems we have and we still have in my country. If I can be someone who can share, as a filmmaker, I have some influence. Many young people can trust me and can listen to me and many people will watch my films and being in the gospel, I can just share some good experiences and share some good things in my films. And yeah, I can change a lot of people. That's what why I'm very grateful.
Morgan Jones 30:47
Tshoper, before we wrap up, I have a favor to ask of you. You have done an amazing job speaking English on this podcast and it's not your first language and I give you, like, mad props because I tried learn Spanish as a missionary, and I would not, like, it would be embarrassing to the whole world for me to try to speak Spanish right now. But I wondered, your French is so beautiful and I wondered if you could share your testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ in French before we finish. Would you be down to do that?
Tshoper Kabambi 31:20
Oui bien sûr. Oui donc j’ai un très très très bon témoignage de Jésus-Christ et je peux vraiment le dire que, sincèrement de tout mon cœur, venant d’une famille où personne ne pouvait croire en moi, venant d’une famille pauvre, venant d’un pays qui subit tout ce qu’il est en train de subir, par rapport à tout ce que je suis en train de vivre, c’est tout simplement un miracle. Dieu m’a accompagné depuis que j’étais enfant, il continue de m’accompagner, et il a fait de sorte que je rejoigne l’église des saints des derniers jours et, je suis très très reconnaissant envers ce Dieu, je suis reconnaissant envers son amour, je suis très reconnaissant envers toutes les personnes qu’il a mises sur notre chemin et le chemin de l’église ou les diriger. Je suis très reconnaissant des, des des voilà de l’éveille, de la... du fait qu’il a choisi Joseph Smith pour diriger l’église et moi, je suis un miracle, et je suis un témoignage vivant de ce Dieu-là.
Morgan Jones 32:37
Thank you so much.
A huge thank you to Tshoper Kabambi for coming on this week's episode. Be sure to check and see if "Heart of Africa" is showing at a cinema near you and make sure you're subscribed to this podcast so that you will be notified when our episode with Disney producer Brigham Taylor comes out later this week.