‘My Life is Like a Movie’: Making a Fiction Film as a Route to Knowledge Production on Gang Political Performances in Goma, DR Congo

  • Maarten Hendriks Conflict Research Group, Department of Conflict and Development, Ghent University
Keywords: gangs, vigilantism, visual ethnography, participatory video, ethnofiction, Goma, DR Congo


‘My life is like a movie’ is a sentence that often surfaced during my fieldwork on gangs engaged in everyday policing in the city of Goma (Democratic Republic of Congo); referring to the martial arts and action movies they like to watch. For this article, I will reflect on how during my ethnographic research I ended up making the fiction film Street Life together with the Congolese filmmaker TD Jack, the gang leader Alino and his group Rich Gang. The paper explores the making of Street Life as a route to knowledge production on the political performances of gangs seeking to carve out a space for themselves in Goma’s urban policing environment. Broadly, two issues are dealt with. Firstly, I analyze how gangs’ everyday political performances are re-enacted and actively mirrored in the film. Secondly, I reflect on how making a fiction with gangs changed my way of dealing with ethnography: in terms of method, my positionality in the field, and ethnographic representation. The paper is also a call for taking the visual – and by extension other senses – more seriously. Not just by writing about sensory experiences, but by incorporating them in our academic work. Sometimes it is better to just let people see it!

Author Biography

Maarten Hendriks, Conflict Research Group, Department of Conflict and Development, Ghent University
Maarten Hendriks is a PhD student affiliated to the Conflict Research Group at Ghent University. His research focuses on Gangs and Anti-gangs (vigilante-type organizations) in the city of Goma (DRCongo).