Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival

Djembe in the 13 Streets film still
Sam K Mann

Sam K Mann

Living in a Global Village – On Documenting Human Relationships between Africa and Hong Kong

In recent decades, Africans have settled in Hong Kong, and Hong Kong natives have shown a keen interest in African culture. Djembe in the 13 Streets takes us on the journey of four African and Hong Kong natives who have immersed themselves in this long-distance cultural exchange.

Director Kwong Yin Brian Hung spoke to PAAFF about the origins and significance of this China-Africa exchange and how it shapes out understanding of living in a global community.

How did you learn about the relationship between Africa and Hong Kong, China? Why did you decide to document these relationships and cultural exchanges?

Kwong Yin Brian Hung: After 2000, there were more Africans settling in Hong Kong. There were also more marriages between African and Hong Kong people. I started talking to Africans in Hong Kong and then I met Kaze, the djembe player from Africa. I encountered the Hong Kong African Association and got to know Camy and Szeto there, and I already knew Cassie through an academic occasion. I wondered about how there are so many relationships between Hong Kongers and Africans even though the majority population in Hong Kong is Chinese. I decided to make a documentary to explore this topic to capture the interactions between these two places.

What is significant about connecting these different parts of the world?

Kwong Yin Brian Hung: As we live in a global village, we should take more chances to get to know different ethnicities in the world. For Hong Kong people, we don’t know much about Africa. I believe that we can learn from different cultures and that’s why it is significant. 

Did the global Black Lives Matters protests and the continued protests against the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong impact the storyline or production process of Djembe in the 13 Streets?

Kwong Yin Brian Hung: The documentary was completed before the Black Lives Matter movement. There was not much impact on the storyline. 

(Editor’s Note: We talk more about BLM and policing in Hong Kong in the recorded Q&A linked at the bottom of this interview.)

What challenges did you face while filming the documentary?

Kwong Yin Brian Hung: The most difficult part was at the beginning because it was difficult to find Africans who were willing to share their life in front of the camera. The documentary was made possible thanks to  Professor Man, Camy, Kaze, Cassie, and Szeto’s help.

How did you decide to make the djembe, a West African musical instrument, a central part of your documentary?

Kwong Yin Brian Hung: I think art is the most powerful form to connect people in different cultures. And djembe is a well-known African instrument in Hong Kong. The name of the djembe is very meaningful, that is “everyone gathers together in peace”. It is exactly the same as the goal of making this documentary. That’s why Djembe became the central part of the documentary. It connects all the characters in the film.

There has been a lot of criticism of the Chinese government’s presence in Africa. Did this impact your documentary filmmaking experience? Has this impacted the reception of the film in Hong Kong, Africa, and elsewhere?

Kwong Yin Brian Hung: When I conducted research, some Africans also had the same view. In the documentary, the main filming part of Africa is Zanzibar, a beautiful island and semi-autonomous region of Tanzania. It seems that they are quite positive towards Chinese. I heard about the Tanzanians having a good friendship with the Chinese, especially the last generation. The relationship between Tanzania and China began in the 1960s. China participated in various developments in Tanzania such as Tazara Railway. When I shot the documentary, there were some Tanzanians speaking with me in Chinese and they intend to study in China. It seems that they are quite positive towards China.

What stories do you want to tell next? Where do you see yourself going forward?

Kwong Yin Brian Hung: I will further explore various ethnicities in Hong Kong. I think there are lots of things that can be learned from other cultures. It is worth telling these stories.

Djembe in the 13 Streets was awarded the Vijay Mohan Social Change Award, which is given to the film that best embodies late PAAFF staff member Vijay’s sprit of transformative change through media.

You can purchase access to watch Djembe in the 13 Streets on our website here.

Watch the recorded Q&A here, conducted on 11/6 at 9:30pm EST over livestream with director Brian Hung. 

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