Rodney Kimbangu

Tell us why you decided to make movies. Tell us a little about your film education.

Since an early age, I was attracted to art (painting, ceramics, photography, and film), technology (mainly engineering), entrepreneurship, and the human condition. I wanted to know what causes people to behave the way they do. But living in Kinshasa in the Congo (DRC), being an engineer offers me more of a future-proof life than art and a low-key interest in psychology.  So, I chose to become an engineer when I grow up, and I studied Mathematics and Physics in high school to prepare for that degree. As a teenager, while reflecting on my past influences and interests as a kid, one day, I noticed that people were more and more addicted to screens–it was around 2008. For some, it was phone screens; for others, it was computer screens–they were mostly watching videos online. My addiction was to computer screens (I could not stop using the computer to either learn programming languages or new tricks in Photoshop, Premiere Pro, Nuke, or Maya). At the same time, I became the top artist in my high-school for two years in a row but decided to see it as a hobby (because artists in the Congo did not live a good life anymore after 1997).

In 2009, I started attending an engineering school. In 2010, I finally saw the intersection between my interests and the fact that videos captured people’s attention quickly. Video consumption is one of the easiest ways to connect with the human reptilian brain, and that year, I found that I should be making films because it is the quickest and perhaps the most powerful way to connect with the inner child in all of us. Funny enough, art-making (at that time ceramics and graphic design) supplemented the funding of my engineering degree, while I was slowly but surely being guided towards using my artistic talent to become a visual storyteller.

The same year, I started informally learning how to film and make videos from Udemy, Lynda, Digital-Tutors, Creative Live, and Elephorm. In 2013, I stopped my engineering degree and only earned an associate because I needed six years to earn a bachelor’s.  Starting mid-2013, I freelanced mainly a graphic designer, and in 2014, I felt kind of confident to charge for my film work, and that is when I consider I entered the film marketplace as the smallest entity you can imagine. To my ambitious self, something was still missing, a real filmmaking experience from a college. In 2016, I moved to the US to study Entrepreneurship at Dartmouth College, and then Painting and Film at Berea College. Because I took some informal film lessons on the internet, I was not a clean slate, and my filmmaking ability saw a dramatic growth as I was more akin to the subject than most of my peers.

In 2018, while in college, I applied for the first round of a grant called the Sloane Shelton Grant and was awarded over 10k to go on a learning adventure that led me to North Hollywood with the New York Film Academy on a two-month-long filmmaking program that 10xed me. I was able to build neuropathways that allowed filmmaking to become second nature. Being a learner, when something becomes second nature, you want to learn more, so I kept looking for more knowledge and experience in filmmaking, until I graduated a few weeks ago with a double degree in Painting and Film. Now, I am learning from Shane Hurlbut and Jordan Brady until I find what else the future has in store for me, in terms of education, because I see myself as a life-long learner.

What are the prospects for a film school graduate in the United States? Is it really all about connections in the American film industry?

I am open to the idea and any opportunity that I can create or cease to attend a film school for a master’s program in the United States, as I already earned a double degree in painting and film. I don’t believe in graduating and stopping the learning process. I am a learner and will always be one. However, no artist evolves in a vacuum. So, when I mentioned to some of my professors and alumni friends about graduate schools, they were unanimous on one point: to see graduate school not only as a way to learn more, but to gain connections with the industry, and I cannot completely agree. I need to build relationships with people in the industry, and at the moment, graduate school seems to be the answer to this pressing need.

Let’s talk about your movie «Unfulfilled.» You have already made short films. Do you think this film is progress for you as a filmmaker?

Absolutely. A successful short film I made before «Unfulfilled» is a short documentary called «Lituka.» The challenges faced with «Lituka» were different from the ones faced with «Unfulfilled» because the latter was not a documentary and required extraordinary attention to detail, and had a sense of urgency that I find documentaries to be lenient about. With that in mind, I am confident that «Unfulfilled» catalyzed my growth as a filmmaker. It showed me things I should focus on to get to the next level in my career as a filmmaker, how to write better dialogs in my scripts.

You made a film about the torments of creativity and the inner demons of the author. Do you think talent is a blessing or a curse?

Yes, talent, much like anything, can be a blessing and a curse. I say this because milk is useful for many but deadly for some. What I mean by a blessing and a curse is the fact that it all depends on the human intention and intervention in the observation of what is. If the thought and the action following an idea are positive, an event is perceived as a blessing. However, when the opposite is true, the same event is seen as unfavorable, hence the perception of a curse we attach to it, though intrinsically, the event is neither good nor bad. For Ava, the blessing of being inspired to write a screenplay turns against her because she had to deal with her demons, which in the short film, is oddly presented as her procrastination (that is only part of a bigger problem, her ego, and biases against certain people). As she perceives specific things around her as threats, the blessing that was to follow her, turned into a curse.

Are you planning to make a full-length film? If so, please tell us more about it.

Yes. I have three feature-length projects on the table at the moment, but all of them are in different stages and require different kinds of attention.

The priority at the moment is Unfulfilled. It was outlined and brainstormed as a full-length film but had to be adapted to work as a short for class purposes. The idea here is to tell the full story of Ava, what she wants and needs, the obstacles she faces (mainly dealing with her ego which got her on the accident in the first place), and how she causes her troubles as she wastes her potential by sheltering herself. Because of the shutdown, I am working on strengthening the characters and the plot at the moment.

Additionally, I am working on finishing another movie I made called «Lituka.» This movie was made as a short and only followed a boy in Kinshasa in the Congo (DRC). However, the full-length will follow him and the team he is a part of. They all make a living making charcoal stoves by using recycled materials found or bought. They show the entrepreneurial problem solver capabilities of people of Kinshasa.

I am also outlining another movie based on actual events and observations, but at this stage, I am just collecting pieces of inspiration that will make this drama work well as a film. And if you are wondering why three movies? Three, because I do not have enough funding and resources available to dedicate to one project until it is entirely done. Also, I find it a bit more productive to have multiple projects cooking at the same time because when one project is paused, I can pick up where I left off with another one. Additionally, inspiration does not wait for anyone. When it is there, I do the best I can to capture it, especially during this worldwide pause.

Are you planning to search for a producer for your feature film? Are you ready to make a film as an independent director?

Though I will always feel like I do not know enough because one of my superpowers is being a learner, I feel ready to make a feature film as an independent filmmaker. There will be more significant lessons to learn along the way, but I know that growth happens outside my comfort zones, and I am hungry and ready to step outside my comfort zone of short films. As of finding a producer, I am planning to find one as soon as I am done reworking the script for «Unfulfilled,» because this movie, unlike «Lituka,» will require a producer that is not me.

Your film has various oddities in the spirit of David Lynch, for example. Who are your favorite directors?

Interestingly, you saw David Lynch’s influence and various oddities in my film. I draw inspiration and am heavily inspired by Christopher Nolan, David Lynch, Guillermo Del Toro, Akira Kurosawa, and James Cameron. Still, the biggest Directing lessons I have ever learned have come from Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Ken Burns, Ron Howard, and David Armstrong.

What would you wish your colleagues, independent filmmakers, in this turbulent time?

I wish my colleague filmmakers to remain safe and find ways to keep creating because Sir Isaac Newton came up with the theory of gravity and invented calculus during a shutdown. We are basically on a free vacation to capitalize on.