‘Stop Filming Us’ Review: Wary of Their Close-Up

The title of Joris Postema’s documentary comes from the cries the Dutch filmmaker encounters in Goma, a city in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as he follows a local photographer (Mugabo Baritegera) through the streets. “What’s this white man doing?” one hawker asks skeptically. “Taking our photos without giving us anything?” exclaim others, covering their faces.

“Can I, a Western filmmaker, portray this world?” Postema wonders at the outset of “Stop Filming Us.” The reality that emerges in the film’s interviews and observational segments is that Postema is freer to do so than native artists in Goma, who struggle to work profitably outside the influence of foreign institutions. Betty, a filmmaker, must apply for funding at the Institut Français to finish shooting her project, while Ley, a photographer, is commissioned by private aid organizations and U.N. agencies to take pictures of destitute refugees that many find exploitative.

Postema frequently turns the lens on himself, posing provocative questions to his Congolese crew. Has he done anything “neocolonial” during the shoot? Should he make this film or hand his resources over to a local director?

Postema’s interlocutors respond with candid critiques, but the director’s self-flagellation feels increasingly empty — less a reckoning with neocolonialism than a toothless display of white guilt. His critical insights are thin, too: There’s little consideration of the economic barriers that separate the artists Postema engages in debate from the people on the street whose consent he openly defies. And despite all his hand-wringing about who should tell which stories, “Stop Filming Us” ultimately credits only one director.

Stop Filming Us
Not rated. In Dutch, English, French and Swahili, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. In New York at Film Forum. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.

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