Manuela Hung has definitely made her mark on the media world. As a college student, Manuela started her career in the visual arts working as an independent photographer and in a film lab. This experience fueled her move into motion pictures where Manuela learned new skills that lead to the position of Senior Chemical Analyst and Quality Controller for a film lab in the motion picture industry. With the advent of video, Manuela became involved with video artists and made experimental art videos. She is the recipient of many awards for her outstanding work in the film industy and is currently working as a consultant. She is involved with the independent film community, with photography as her first passion, along with the non-for-profit organization Friends of Conservation, which does their work in the Masai Mara in Kenya. FOC helps build schools, provides conservation education programs, wildlife protection and much more.
From the first moment that I heard the magical sounds of a Handpan Drum I was hooked. I immediately embarked on my journey to learn about them, spending hours online reading articles and watching videos. It quickly became evident that they were not easily accessible. I discovered a handful of highly respected drum makers in the U.S and in this elite group there was a solitary woman. Shortly after making this discovery, I found myself on a road trip heading to Madison, WI to meet her. Little did I know that on this journey not only would I find my perfect drum, but I would also meet and be inspired by the incredibly talented Jenny Robinson.
HANDPAN JOURNEY follows the only woman manufacturer of the Handpan drum on a musical journey of inspiration, ingenuity and craft as she hand-makes beautiful instruments with a magical sound.
HANDPAN JOURNEY was made with a majority Chicago crew, including producers, director and cinematographer, and all post-production was completed in Chicago.
At first, all we see are leaves. Splotches of brown, yellow and red, floating atop the water, barely obscuring the reflection of trees scattered throughout the frame. The camera moves across the water as the flutter of birds chirping makes its way into our ears, but not long before another sound overtakes our senses; a mysterious combination of percussive and melodic texture fills the space. It practically invades the image on screen, even before it becomes the focus of the story itself. Oftentimes, the best function for documentaries is showing us the behind-the-scenes intricacies of our world that we might otherwise have never thought about beforehand. Case in point; the handpan drum, a fascinating instrument in and of itself, but whose construction, history, and place in the world today you might not have otherwise thought about before watching Manuela Hung’s Handpan Journey, a brief window into the life of Jenny Robinson, one of few handpan drummers on the planet, and one of even fewer people who constructs these dazzling instruments by hand themselves. Running Isthmus Instruments in Madison, Wisconsin, Robinson leads us through the journey of how she fell in love with this instrument, how she entered the intimate league of people creating them, and how she found community with the tight-knit group of handpan players from around the world. We get glimpses at just how much work goes into constructing a handpan, the tools and methodology of perfecting this drum finding its way at the midpoint between art and science as Robinson works painstakingly at bringing this piece of soul-fulfilling instrumentation to life. It’s a brief, yet inspiring look into the life of someone discovering their passion, and Hung wisely keeps the focus on Robinson, her instrument, and that beautiful sound that unites them in this journey of artistic, technical, and creative exploration.
Ben Kaye is a Chicago-based director, puppet-maker, musician, and culture critic, with his writing appearing in Newcity Stage, The Spool, and Looper.com. Ben is the host and creator of "Movie: The Musical!," a podcast about movies that have been turned into musicals. Alongside these various artistic pursuits, you can also find Ben working as the Guest Services Manager at Chicago Children's Theatre.