Joel loads a stack of boxes onto a hand truck and weaves his way through a crowded outdoor market in Kisangani, one of the largest cities in the Democratic Republic of Congo. An orphan who lives with his aunt, Joel doesn't want to be a courier forever. But if he is to have any hope of a brighter future, he must first pass the national exam—the key to better employment and a post-secondary education. And to take the exam, he needs money.
NATIONAL DIPLOMA follows Joel and a group of his classmates in the two months leading up to their taking the national exam. Things start off badly, when the high school principal walks into a class full of students preparing to take a mock exam and expels Joel and more than a dozen others for unpaid school fees. Undaunted, the students rent an unfinished house across the river. The floors are covered in debris, there is no furniture, and live wires snake down interior walls. But the teens hammer a blackboard into a brick wall, set a cookstove on the floor, and set about teaching each other algebra, philosophy, and the other subjects they will need to pass.
What makes this verite documentary exceptional is its ability to capture telling details: the sign above the principal's desk saying anything is possible with hard work, just before he expels students over fees; girls brushing each other's hair in the downtime between studying sessions; the ecstatic and intimate moments in church and visiting a faith healer, as the students seek any help they can get.
As the exam date approaches, the principal visits the students and implores them to return so he can pay the school's staff. Meanwhile, the young scholars have discovered that the key to passing the exam may not lie in studying, but in finding a trusted source who can leak them the answers.
Director Dieudo Hamadi grew up in Kisangani and was one of the half a million Congolese students who took the national exam each year. NATIONAL DIPLOMA is a closely observed film that offers no overt political commentary as it chronicles the hypocrisy, anxiety and distortion in a deeply colonial system.
"Admirably well directed, the film strikes a subtle balance between its focus on the group and the individual. Young director Dieudo Hamadi has as much empathy for those he films as he has skepticism toward their absurd circumstances." —Cahiers du cinemaOfficial Selection, 2018 True/False Film Festival
Best Documentary Nominee, 2015 Trophees Francophones du Cinema
Official Selection, 2017 Tournees Film Festival
Official Selection, 2017 Congo in Harlem at the Maysles Documentary Center
Official Selection, 2015 New York African Film Festival
Official Selection, 2014 Toronto International Film Festival
Best Documentary Feature Nominee, 2014 Abu Dhabi Film Festival
Potemkine Award and SCAM Award, 2014 Cinema du Reel Film Festival
Special Mention, 2014 Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival
"Congolese director Dieudo Hamadi's second feature-length film offers a poised and engaging view of his hometown's high-school students confronting their graduate exams. A remarkable piece of cinema verite, which goes mightily up close to its subjects, NATIONAL DIPLOMA is proof of Hamadi as one of Democratic Republic of Congo's (if not Africa's) most observant documentary-makers." —The Hollywood Reporter
"Through a masterful use of twisted humor, Hamadi presents the means which justify the bright ends that the students are seeking... Overall, NATIONAL DIPLOMA is a very ambitious film, making good use of standard filmmaking techniques while using its unique, personal story as a background for putting the spotlight on grand, international themes." —Africine
"Vivid; the students of the Lycée Athénée Royal attend classes in decaying buildings with broken windows, where teachers who are either underpaid or not paid at all are often on strike… [Hamadi provides] both overviews of a social and political context and the concrete details of individual lives." —Dr. Rachel Gabara, African Studies Review