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Portrait of an Artist: Marie-Natacha Barampana ’24

March 1, 2024

Cora Dow
DOCUMENTARIAN: Marie-Natacha Barampana poses for a portrait. The second installation of "Under the Blessed Table," a film series on her mother, screened last night in Mills Hall.

For Marie-Natacha Barampana ’24, the roles of daughter, biographer, cinematographer, director, writer and student blend into one. Last night, Barampana’s talents were on full display in the Mills Hall screening room for a viewing of the second installment of Barampana’s film series on her mother’s life.

Barampana became entranced by cinema in her sophomore year of high school when she took her first film class. Having made numerous short films to date, Barampana’s biggest project is ongoing: “Under the Blessed Table”, a biopic series about her mother, Fifi Masuka Saini.

Saini was born the second-youngest of six children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where she lived in poverty for the entirety of her childhood.

Saini used faith to cope with her difficult situation, praying every day that her children would have a better life than she did. Her family rallied enough money and support to help get her an education—which put pressure on her to get their family out of such difficult circumstances.

“She was the one that was gonna take the family out, right? They paid for their school. None of her siblings went to university. Some of them haven’t even finished primary school,” Barampana said. “That’s what kept her rolling. She was like, ‘I need it to pay off for them.’”

She did. Saini is now one of the few female provincial governors in the DRC. Her mother’s perseverance and hard work have empowered Barampana to follow her dreams and motives—leading her to the film industry.

The idea for a documentary series came when Barampana began chronicling her mother’s life in a biography.

“[Saini and I] had been writing that for two years and I realized, I want to do a film on this,” Barampana said. “I was telling people about it, and they said, ‘This sounds like a movie,’ and so I was determined to make it real.”

Barampana began filming in the DRC at the end of 2022 and released the first episode documenting her mother’s early life in April of last year.

She recruited actors from a dance studio near her shooting location, many of whom were orphaned children who had no previous experience in acting. Because of this, Barampana had to take on the role of acting coach, as well as cinematographer and director.

Bringing her vision to fruition was no easy feat for Barampana. During production of the first episode, she struggled with being taken seriously. She said many of the older men on the film set attempted to commandeer the production by constantly offering advice and patronizing Barampana so that she felt that her ideas were not displayed accurately.

“I didn’t want to be perceived in a certain way. Before I thought if I became more assertive, they would take that as being impolite,” Barampana said. “For the second episode I said, ‘No, I don’t care what they want.’ I was not being polite. I was a director.”

To Barampana, the second episode is a better representation of her work, rather than the unwanted input of others present in the first. Since it was such a personal story, Barampana said she felt empowered to stand her ground going forward.

Although she has no specific plans for a third episode, Barampana said she sees potential in carrying the series forward.

“There’s so much going on. Two episodes are only two pages of the biography I am writing … I don’t know how many episodes, but I want to go further,” Barampana said.

Audiences seem to agree. In January, just as the second episode finished production, Barampana hosted a screening in the DRC where 400 people were in attendance.

“It was crazy because my mom was able to invite all her friends, workers and constituents. She was also very proud of me,” Barampana said. “It was nerve-wracking, but doing it at home was important to me.”

As Barampana finishes out her time at the College, she is helping friends produce their own short films as well as working on her biography, and will potentially prepare for another episode in “Under the Blessed Table.”

While her specific plans remain unclear after graduation, one thing is clear: Barampana wants to go home to the DRC.

“There’s so much potential [in the DRC] and people just want to do stuff. They are down to do anything, like my movie.” Barampana said. “I don’t want to exaggerate, but I want to change people’s lives with film.”


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