This is a question that Juma is asking in Bongoland after experiencing a disappointing life in America. Follow Juma as he chases an ever-elusive American dream in his new land after leaving everything behind in his native Bongoland.
Bongoland is one of the few entertainment films to be created especially for the Swahili speaking community. Josiah Kibira, a native Tanzanian now living in Minnesota, wrote and directed the film. This is his first film. Africans produced the story in conjunction with the local Minnesota Independent filmmakers.
Follow Juma as he deals with the issues that come up when his dreams for a better life in America collide with the realities of everyday life for an undocumented worker. After having experienced some initial successes, Juma’s world starts to crumble. He finds himself facing the difficult decision of whether he should continue to struggle for success in a country that is supposed to offer so much opportunity or return to his native Bongoland.
To date, there are less than 5 movies ever made in this language. This is despite the fact that Swahili is spoken by more than 100 million people in the world mainly from Africa south of the Sahara. Josiah Kibira, did not see his first television program until he was about 23 years old. This is due to the fact that there were no television stations in Tanzania.
The story of Bongoland, is challenging a widely held belief in the third world countries that once one gets to the US or Europe, their problems of poverty are all resolved. There are many young people in these countries that see that the only way out is for them to emigrate to the west.
The experience of Juma turns out different results. A viewer of the film will have to make up their mind as to what caused these problems. There are questions of being an undocumented worker; there are questions of racism or just a case of bad luck.
This is a story that any person that came to the US as an immigrant can relate to. There is also a discussion about the amount of information the immigrant send home about the living conditions here. Most of the immigrants project the image that life is really good. This makes the people left behind to continuously put pressure on them in their daily lives.
There are demands for help for the school fees, there are demands for money to start new projects etc.
The people who receive these requests from home, somehow find ways to fulfill them. This means working 3 jobs. It means accepting manual labor just to make a buck regardless of the education. This is what Juma is asking. Is this lying and pretending that life is good really worth it?
FROM THE DIRECTOR
A good story that everyone who immigrated to the USA can relate to. A story of hardship and a story of triumph. Juma, the main character is chasing his dream. A dream that is very real to a lot of people in the Third World countries. Once in the US reality and fantasy collide. In the middle of this collision is Juma.
This is a story that was easy to do because I only had to consult my real life experiences. As an immigrant to the United States, Bongoland reflects a lot of what I either experienced or saw a lot of my friends go through. It is a true reflection of an authentic experience told through a very sensitive account.
It is a story of perseverance and victory as the main character comes to terms with reality. It is agood story because it shows the people in the developing countries who are lined up to come to America that life in the United States is not as easy as it seems. The main character comes out as a hero in the end as he finds a solution to his predicament. After trying all avenues he asks himself a basic question, “Would you rather be a well fed slave or a hungry free man”. He then makes the right decision.
What makes Bongoland an even more special story, it is a story partly told in Swahili. This is a language that is spoken by over 100 million people in the world and yet there only less than 10 movies ever made in this language. As a director I am determined to break this trend and use the language even in future projects.
Allison Hennen Rachel’s mother
Steve Gorsky Landlord
Mukama Morandi Juma
Christina Breidenchach The Boss at Cities Financial
Laura Wangsness Juma’s girlfriend
Erick Baruti Juma’s friend
Robert Kataraiya Mukulu, Juma’s friend
Tony Zadra The boss at the restaurant
Jeff Green Erick – Juma’s co-worker
Carolyn Deters Receptionist – Cities Financial
Edmund L Ijumba The Morning DJ
Bongoland makes appearance in the Central Standard Film Festival (September 19th). The Tanzanian Ambassador was recently in the Twin Cities and watched Bongoland.
CLICK HERE to hearwhat he had to say about it!
This article, published on 9/12/03 from the Star Tribune paper in Minneapolis, MN is a mini-review of Bongoland.
From Minneapolis Star tribune Published September 12, 2003
There still are people in the world who think of the United States as the land of milk, honey and no problems, says Josiah Kibira, and he’s determined to set them straight. The Tanzania native, who lives in Plymouth with his American wife and their children, decided to write and direct a drama in a mix of English and his first language, Swahili.
Juma is an immigrant from a fictional African country who undergoes demeaning experiences after moving to the Twin Cities. His hours are cut on his grunt job; he gets evicted, and he’s dumped by his American girlfriend.
It’s clear this is a first effort made with minimal resources, but Kibira shows promise for a novice filmmaker with no training, particularly as a writer. Juma is not painted as martyr, but as an imperfect, sometimes selfish man whose character flaws are exacerbated by cultural differences. The mood-setting soundtrack includes songs by Justin Kalikawe, a popular Tanzanian musician who died earlier this year. Kibira plans another local screening in October, but has his sights set on eventually distributing the film in Africa’s Swahili-speaking nations.
Kristin Tillotson is at email@example.com
Bongoland: a movie with Swahili on the Map – by Freelance writer: Tom Beers
This article previously published in the Minnesota Spokesperson Recorder
As red, yellow and blue disco lights, flashing to a Reggae beat, cut through a gauze of cigarette smoke, two young, black men stand toe-to-toe, fighting. The band leader signals the manager—video’s rolling—police arrive. As the men are hauled off, they taunt each other—in Swahili.
On cue, everything stops, and director Josiah Kibira calls for another take. Bongoland, Kibira’s debut film, a feature-length drama, tells the story of Juma, an East African immigrant living in Minneapolis in his chase of the American Dream.
Kibira directs his actors in English and Swahili, an East African language spoken by about 50 million people world-wide and the first language of most of Kibira’s cast. One of Kibira’s goals is to “put Swahili on the map and make Swahili a legitimate language in which movies are made.”
“There are very few right now,” he says. The Internet Movie Database lists
four feature-length dramas for the last 50 years with Swahili dialogue: Besieged, 1998, in English, Italian and Swahili; Maangamizi: The Ancient One, 1998, in English and Swahili; Nirgendwo in Africa, 2001, in English, German and Swahili; and Kamchatka, 2002, in Spanish and Swahili. One of these shares Kibira’s goals—Maangamizi, co-directed by Martin Mhando and Ron Mulvihill, which tells its story in Swahili and from an African perspective.
“I want to make movies for a Swahili-speaking crowd,” says Kibira. “Bongoland is about 40 percent Swahili if you count the spoken words. But the whole story is about a Swahili person from Bongoland. That by itself makes it 100 percent Swahili. This is what resonates with the people I am aiming at. They want to see movies about them, talking about their issues.”
Juma, played by Mukama Morindi, wrestles with a question, Kibira says, that confronts many—Would you rather be a well-fed slave or a hungry free man? This conflict lies at the heart of Bongoland.
The title of the film , explains Kibira, appeals to his audience and evokes contemporary Africa. “Bongo” he says, is recent “code, or slang, for Tanzania.” In broader usage, the term recalls the drum and dance that many associate with Africa. “We want to speak of Bongoland so that somebody will maybe think it’s the whole continent.”
Kibira says he chose Morandi partly because his accent appeals to a diverse Swahili audience. “When you’re listening to him, you can’t say he’s from Tanzania.” Morandi, the son of a diplomat, learned Swahili while traveling from teachers, he explains. “This guy can be from [anywhere]. Kenyans . . . , Ugandans . . . , people in Central Africa, Congo, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, all can speak Swahili.”
Once he has grabbed his audience’s attention with Swahili, Kibira wants to dispel the myths many have about life here.
“There is a very popular belief when you are in Tanzania, in the Third World, that once you get here everything is settled. The land of opportunity. I have seen through my own experience that that is not the case for a lot of people.”
Adapting to the culture and technology here, he says, often makes difficult barriers seem all the more insurmountable. “You’re coming into a world where it’s well advanced . . . . The first time I saw a TV was when I came to college in ’82. That was the first time I actually saw a TV program on television. So, if you expand on that and say, well, can I come to the United States and really be successful in TV? I don’t know. This is new. This is all new. So, I will have to run at supersonic speed to catch up with kids who started watching TV at . . . before they’re born, even.”
Martin Mhando, co-director of Maangamizi, sees Bongoland as an embodiment of this cultural clash.
“Making films for any Tanzanian is by nature an odyssey,” he says. “A country that has only made two or three feature films that have been released commercially certainly needs more than money to get productions going—it needs grit, perseverance, and down right madness. I am certain that [this] is what Josiah will have experienced all through production to distribution.”
Bongoland, Mhando says, also defies traditional film standards: “These types of films are like new marathon runners. They have no need of pacesetters, for they run at their own pace, pulled along by their need to succeed when no one else expects them to. Bongoland follows in that route and continues the struggle that is African film making.”
Since leaving Tanzania, his home, to attend Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas, in 1982, Kibira has caught up to post-modern living. In three years, he put his experience as an immigrant into words and, last year, assembled his team. With shooting finished and editing in progress, Bongoland is slated for release on May 31, 2003.
Releasing Bongoland, says Kibira, has its unique challenges. In Tanzania, he says, there are very few theaters and none like ones in the U.S. Instead, using portable giant screens, he will bring his film to the people. He is also negotiating air time with Tanzanian television stations.
After releasing Bongoland in Tanzania, Kibira plans to bring it to the largest Swahili populations in the U.S.—Washington D.C., New York City, and Columbus, Ohio. Afterward, he will bring Bongoland to the Twin Cities. Kibira’s film schedule includes a feature drama on AIDS in Africa. With script more than half complete, he is eager to shoot this project.
“I feel like it’s a responsibility for me to do,” he says. “I have lost a brother and a foster sister—everybody I know here has lost someone to AIDS.” Kibira remains confident that Bongoland, his AIDS drama and a Bongoland sequel will materialize. He refuses to let doubt and pessimism slow him down.
“It can’t be a wishy-washy fifty percent—I believe, I think, I might. No. We’re doing this. We’re going.
“Believe. It just takes time, and you see it happening.”
Bongoland is also featured on the African Movies website, http://crawfurd.dk/africa/africanfilm.htm#africanamericans