In 2011 the dates for IDFA didn’t fall particularly well as I had to do silly things like work during the 10 days of the festival. But I celebrated the opening by going to see “Empire of Dust” — in the afternoon, no less! What a wild woman.
I quite enjoyed this movie. It was fairly slow-moving, but that was probably partly to capture the dichotomy between the all-business Chinese and the very slow-moving Congolese. The movie portrays the relationship between a Chinese overseer of a large road construction project and the African translator assigned to maneuver between the Chinese bossmen and the African workers. Of course, culture clashes are rampant and inevitable. The Chinese wants everything done yesterday, while the Africans stand waiting for their boss to show up before they even turn the machines on. Unfortunately, it is often the poor translator who gets caught in the middle between the irate and uncomprehending boss and the incredulous and mocking workers. We never heard why he speaks fluent Mandarin, but he is obviously a good man trying hard to bridge the gap; proud of his country, he doesn’t like the criticism poured upon it by the Chinese, although aware that there are major problems with the infrastructure and organisation.
It only became clear halfway through why, indeed, the Chinese were building a billion-dollar road in the middle of nowhere, Congo. It seems that in exchange for the road, they will get some sort of advantage in mining rights for some valuable mineral located in the far reaches of the Congo. This is scary. It reminded me of traveling in Dominica and learning that there, too, the Chinese were building roads. We couldn’t possibly understand why the Chinese were interested in an under-developed desert island with no beaches and great fruit, but perhaps there’s something valuable there that they want.
I recommend the film highly. See it if you get a chance.