Allason Leitz is in her second year of her masters in Arts Administration at Columbia University. She has worked for the last seven years with the Congo International Film Festival (CIFF) most recently as the assistant to the Artistic Director where she primarily gathered (and occasionally curated) films. Since beginning at CIFF, she has worked on a number of projects that seek to connect Congo and the western world, primarily through her work with the web series Kinshasa Collection and the women-owned startup Tulizeni.
Allason shared her reflections on her most recent trip to Goma with us:
This summer I went back to Goma, D.R. Congo to be part of the Congo International Film Festival which I’ve been helping out with for the past seven years. Two things were a bit different this year than in the past: 1) I was coming off of an incredible first year in the ARAD program and 2) the festival was transitioning from a founder-run festival to one run by a successor. As we learned in our course “Principles and Practices in Arts Administration,” this sort of organizational shift can affect every defining aspect of an organization. Yet as with most experiences that push your limits, the things I took away from being there in person far exceeded what I imagined when I sent out the countless emails and messages for the GoFundMe campaign I was relying on.
Taking part in a film festival in a war zone comes with its fair share of challenges, ones that inevitably go outside the scope of the Arts Administration challenges we speak about regularly in our program. On more than one occasion I wondered if getting there was even going to be a reality. The festival depended on me, so I had to get there–I was responsible for the tablets we needed for an exhibition, and I had the only copy of EVERY single film for the festival. Despite whatever happened, these items had to make it there.
My journey was complicated by a short planning time frame and a complicated visa process. Getting a visa to the D. R. Congo has become more complex based on new international agreements between the U.S. and the D. R. Congo—it is a process that can take ten days and subject to quirks in the system. Sitting in desperation on Connecticut Ave in Washington, D.C. with no visa the day before my already postponed flight, I wound up resorting to the absolute last option to make it to Goma in time. Instead of flying from D.C. to Goma directly, I changed my flight to fly to Kigali, Rwanda. Changing my travel route, enabled me to be eligible for a different visa which I could get at the border, though it was unfortunately a much more expensive option. In Kigali I got on a TINY propeller plane to Kamembe (a southern Rwandese border town to Congo) at the crack of dawn and crossed the border on foot to the D.R. Congo. Then, despite a mis-dated visa, I made it onto an overnight boat to Goma (a twelve hour journey instead of the normal three) and arrived six days after I had left my apartment in NYC.
I could write a small book about all of the mix ups, as well as the amazing people who saved me time and time again and restored my faith in humanity. Yet when everything was going wrong for a while, I was reminded by a friend of mine from ARAD who was texting with me that this would probably make a pretty good story for my grandchildren. In the moment it was riddled with anxiety, triumph, peace, doubt, anger, confusion, euphoria, you name it, the emotions were all there: tell-tale signs of any adventure.
I learned a valuable lesson at the end of an epic journey and an incredible festival with the realities of an unstable warzone ever present. I saw that we in much of the Western world have become dangerously defined by an expectation of ease.
Working at CIFF has in many ways tested my will and my desire. I’ve also learned to trust those inclinations that push me to believe in my values and myself. My journey to Goma was a pale version of the tests many people in Goma face daily, but my greatest privilege is that I have chosen to be a part of this festival every year instead of the innumerable festivals in the U.S., because this festival brings more to the table than any festival I have ever been a part of in the U.S. There is an ease in the U.S. that we take for granted: the electricity working when we have a screening, ready access to internet fast enough to download films, and internet that works and doesn’t cost a fortune.But, CIFF celebrates the triumphant glee of self-expression in a way that accepting ‘ease’ has made routine. It accentuates the bliss and vulnerability that comes from sharing your thoughts with the world and is truly a celebration of us as individuals and community. The heroes of this festival are my colleagues on the ground who dare to create a festival that can run in in the D. R. Congo as well as in other places around the world. Being in the D. R. Congo constantly reminds me that such deep celebration is best not forgotten.