"This is the sixth war that I am running from with this sewing machine," announces Hakiza Nyantaba, a tailor, early in This Is Congo. In its first half, Daniel McCabe's engrossing heartbreaker of a doc surveys life across the Democratic Republic of the Congo early this decade, as government forces battled Rwanda and Uganda-backed rebel groups for control of the city of Goma, deep in the country's mineral-rich east. Despite that presumptuously declarative title, McCabe lets his subjects tell their own stories. Nyantaba is one of a quartet of speakers whose words play over vivid footage of everyday moments and extraordinary happenings.
McCabe served as cinematographer, and his images vary from striking to scarifying to magnificent. But his film's power comes from its voices. These include the National Army's Colonel Mamadou Ndala, a patriot so charismatic that his superiors seem shaken by the love newly liberated Goma citizens display for him. Handsome Ndala is all too happy to redirect their accolades up the chain of command, to the president he quite offhandedly calls "the Supreme Commander, His Excellency, Joseph Kabila." The final recurring interviewee is the mysterious "Colonel Kasongo," an anonymous whistleblower -- and one-time rebel -- now high within the Congolese military. Shown in shadowed profile, Kasongo makes the case for President Kabila's corruption, laying bare how the current exploitation of Congolese resources and people has grown right out of centuries of cruel colonial precedent. McCabe and his editor, Alyse Ardell Spiegel, sketch out a searing abbreviated history of the country, one of several flourishes distinguishing a film that's brisk in metabolism but rich in urgent incident.