Perhaps the most frustrating thing about living in China as a foreigner interested in understanding China is just how difficult it can be to get access to anything real. We laowai tend to stick to the cities, and even when we don’t, we are constantly aware that those around us and speaking with us are monitoring their words, conscious of the fact that we are not, in the end, Chinese.
Given that, China geeks internationally should relish the opportunity to check out these short documentary films, the result of NGO Shanshui giving cameras (and some, but clearly not much, training) to rural Sichuan locals and letting them make whatever kind of films they wanted. We owe a double tip of the hat to Bendilaowai on this one; their link to our post on the Dalai Lama led to me finding their site and this post on the films, which they rightfully call fascinating.
Those looking for more background should refer to the Bendilaowai post as they quite obviously know more about it than I do; those looking to dive right into the films can find all of them right here.
Although all the films are interesting, be warned that they are not subtitled (in Chinese or English) and that there’s a lot of Sichuanese, which is pretty much unintelligible to those of us used to standard Mandarin. Still, not all of the films require much in the way of language abilities.
There are two in particular I enjoyed and could recommend even to non-Chinese-speakers. The first is called 《我家的鸟》, or, The Birds of My Home. It’s an extremely simple film. There are no words, there is no music; just shots of birds, scenery, and the ambient noise (which occasionally cuts out). It might seem simple-minded, even irrelevant, but the tranquility and emptiness is a rather brilliant way to offer contrast with the chaos that must have flourished in that place a year ago. How much of that is intentional I have no idea, but I actually found it quite moving, as though the filmmaker was an old bird lover documenting the return of his friends in the first spring after the very earth opened up and drove them away. If nothing else, it’s really quite peaceful when the ambient noise is there, and it doesn’t come off like a bad nature show on CCTV (another one of the films, 《走进王朗》, does).
The other one I really liked was 《志愿者与村里娃》, or Volunteers and Country Children, which chronicles (sort of) the end of the stay of some volunteer teachers in a rural area as they put together some well-deserved entertainment for the children and their families. It’s as corny and cumbayaish as you’d expect from a Chinese farewell “party”, but but you just might find yourself swaying along with them anyway.
Also of interest today:
Seeking Justice, Chinese Land in Secret Jails (NY Times) – We may yet do a whole post on this, but it’s worth a read on its own.