FESTIVALS: * IDFA Reflecting Images - Panorama * Kassel * Leipzig * Helsinki Documentary Film Festival
AWARDS: * Best Belgian documentary at Docville Int'l FF in Leuven
Empire of Dust
Environment, Ethnography, Human Rights, Migration
Running time |
Bram Van Paesschen
The Chinese Railway Engineering Company has descended upon the Democratic Republic of the Congo to restore the road between Kolwezi and Lubumbashi. As Head of Logistics, Loa Yan is responsible for the building materials. His interpreter is a Congolese named Eddy. The government is supposed to provide the materials, but it is not coming through on its promises. This means that the Chinese are forced to deal with local companies, all of which have their own agendas and ways of working.
The film follows this illustrious duo through the never-ending process of absurd negotiations. It is not only the language barrier that complicates things; the cultural differences in particular make any kind of cooperation almost impossible. The Chinese, who have flown in just for the project, often talk about the Congolese in blatantly racist terms, and the Congolese in turn seem reluctant to lift a finger for their Chinese bosses. All of which drives Loa Yan to distraction.
The big boss is due to visit, and the road is nowhere near finished. Recurring excerpts from a local radio show give a crystal clear commentary on the developments. In the beginning, the DJ still refers to "our Chinese friends," but as time goes on his view of the Asian visitors sours markedly. This occasionally hilarious report of a less than stable working relationship also reflects the unstoppable rise of China.