Belgian director Marc-Henri Wajnberg collected stories from streets kids living homeless in the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kinshasa, to make this hybrid docu-drama – a brutally real, sometimes uplifting film. You suspect some of its most shocking scenes are un-scripted. At the start we’re shown a mass exorcism of children believed to be possessed by demons – phoney shamans pulling animal guts and shrivelled insects out of howling, terrified children, some of them toddlers.
When little José (José Mawanda) is accused of witchcraft by his stepmother, he runs away before the shamans can get him – joining the 30,000 children living rough in Kinshasa. On the streets he falls in with a gang of kids who’ve formed a band (including a spot-on Michael Jackson impersonator).
This is an eyes-wide-open portrait of one of the world’s most poor and dangerous cities. Daily life in Kinshasa is a battle and the street kids have it worst: robbed and beaten up by the police; the girls are at constant risk of rape. But for all that, Wajnberg captures the energy of a city that lives and breathes music – from highlife to Mozart to rap – steering his film well clear of ‘pity porn’.