Filmmaker Jeanette Kong spent much of her childhood in her parent’s busy shop in Jamaica’s capital city. Decades later, her Jamaican-Chinese upbringing is the inspiration for her first film, “The Chiney Shop”.
Approximately 30 people attended a screening and panel on the 25-minute documentary, which featured footage from a 1916 Penn graduate, at the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
“I wanted to do [the documentary] as a tribute to my parents and their generation,” Kong said.
The film, about Chinese shop owners in Jamaica, had a personal connection to Kong. Until her family moved to Canada in 1974, when she was nine, her parents operated a grocery store near Kingston, Jamaica.
“There were certain stereotypes I wanted to go against,” Kong said, mentioning the common thought that Chinese shop owners in Jamaica were always out to cheat their customers.
Panel member and Ryerson University professor Anne-Marie Lee-Loy found this part of the film satisfying. “There’s a way of thinking about the Chinese in a negative way in the Caribbean, but the movie shows there’s a great fondness for them, especially in rural areas.”
1916 Penn graduate Watson Kintner shot the footage used in “The Chiney Shop”. After he died in 1979, he left all of his papers and reels of film to the Penn Museum.
“The footage was just so natural in how it showed everyday life in Jamaica,” Kong said.
In addition to Kintner’s film, over 700 films from the Penn Museum’s archives are online. “Penn students are encouraged to download and view them,” Penn Museum film archivist Kate Pourshariati said.
In addition to Lee-Loy, Asian American Studies professor David Eng and Brandeis University professor Faith Smith also sat on the panel, which Anthropology professor Deborah Thomas moderated.
“I learned a lot from it. It made me think a lot about things I’d never thought about before,” Northeast Philadelphia resident Larry Holland said.
Before making this documentary, Kong was a producer and director for more than 13 years at TV Ontario, a Canadian public television station.
Following a “midlife crisis,” she got a master’s degree in media production and began making “The Chiney Shop”.
Kong is currently in the process of finishing her second documentary, titled “Half: The Story of a Chinese Jamaican Son”. It tells the tale of a boy of mixed heritage who lived in China between the ages of 5 and 27 before reuniting with his mother and siblings in Jamaica.
The Chinese had a profound impact on life in Jamaica. “To put it simply, the Chinese nurtured life in the Caribbean,” Lee-Loy said.
The evening was part of an ongoing series called “Live From the Archives”, organized by Pourshariati. It features documentaries composed of footage from Penn’s archives.
The next event in this series is a screening of “Gods and Kings,” a film about contemporary Maya people in Guatemala, on November 13.