Empire of Dust, Bram van Paesschen (2011), 77 min.

Empire of Dust3The library recently acquired this documentary film about two men representing two different cultures who clash in the dust of the former Belgian colony, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). An occasionally hilarious report of a less than stable working relationship, which also reflects the unstoppable rise of China.

In 2007, China and Congo signed a massive resources-for-infrastructure deal with projected revenues of $40-$120 billion. China endeavours to take on a wide range of development projects (including roads, hospitals, schools and airports) to be paid for by Congo’s immense copper and cobalt reserves. This documentary film examines the human aspect of this exchange.

Lao Yang and Eddy both work for a company called CREC (Chinese Railway Engineering Company). They have just set up camp near the remote mining town of Kolwezi in the Katanga province of the DRC. The goal of the company is to redo the road - covering 300 km - that connects Kolwezi with Lubumbashi, the capital of the province. Lao Yang is head of logistics of the Empire of Dust1group. He is responsible for the equipment, building materials and food (mainly chickens) to arrive in the isolated Chinese prefab camp. The Congolese government was supposed to deliver these things but so far the team hasn't received anything. With Eddy (a Congolese man who speaks Mandarin fluently) as an intermediate, Lao Yang is forced to leave the camp and deal with local Congolese entrepreneurs, because without the construction materials the road works will cease. The film follows the two men 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. However, the humorous interstitials from a Congolese radio DJ appear to be invented by the Belgian filmmaker Van Paesschen himself.

The film was shown at a number of film festivals, including IDFA in Amsterdam.
To borrow this film, click here.

Empire of Dust2