Having survived many an exam yourself (intelligent reader, you), you’ve most likely pondered just what you would be willing to pay in order to avoid an exam. A hundred dollars? A month of unpaid work? Your soul?
In Kisangani, Congo, being able to sit ones National Diploma (University Entrance equivalent) is a privilege. It symbolises so much more than a grade. It symbolises a chance at life outside of poverty for them and their whole family.
Dieudo Hamadi’s National Diploma (Examen D’Etat) is a fly on the wall, observational documentary that follows a group of young Congolese students as they fight for their right to sit their National Diploma in a corrupt schooling institution. Having been kicked out of class for not paying their fees after missing months of tuition due to striking teachers, the students take it upon themselves to create their own schooling environment and set about teaching themselves. We watch as they source a location in a partially built building, establish a study timetable, a set of house rules and eventually come to the realisation that ‘preparing’ for finals will follow a different path to what they had envisaged.
The documentary concept is a clever one, particularly interesting for young adult audiences going through examination processes themselves. However, as a documentary it could be better executed regarding visual and technical film skills. While the documentary is informative and effective in telling the students story, it is lacking in artistic elements and focuses rather on the bare basics of documentary making. Dialectically the film is difficult to understand as not all dialogue was subtitled, however all important parts seem to be translated and the story structure remains clear.
National Diploma’s secondary narrative comments on the traditional/spiritual beliefs of the Congolese. Joel is National Diploma’s key protagonist, the film opens and closes with him. It is through Joel that audiences are drawn into a part of a culture that believes in witch doctors and their powers. Joel, like his schoolmates, struggles financially. However, unlike his peers, any money he earns is spent on a witch doctor. This is constantly contrasted against the Christian spiritual practices of his friends and as the film concludes, we are led to associate Joel’s examination outcome with his different spiritual beliefs - clearly identifying one religion with failure and one with success.
National Diploma is an observational documentary that provides an interesting perspective of youth in a difficult economic environment, trying to change their futures for the better.