Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tampere Film Festival: My Village in 2007

Village Documentary Project distributed filming equipment to 10 rural villages for amateur filmmakers, including Zhang Huangcai, a 50 years farmer at Shijiazai village. His third documentary My Village in 2007 shows what life is like in a very backward village. What makes the film special is that the storyteller has lived there his whole life apart from doing odd jobs in cities. The lifestyle is normal for him, while being utterly alien for Westerners viewing the film at Tampere.

The village was so backward that the film had just 3 motor vehicles: a car, a harvester and a motorcycle. They still collected hay by raising it manually to drying poles. In the scene where they went to a city to sell handicrafts, they walked. By contrast, in rural India motorcycles are widespread.

The villagers subsisted by farming corn. The houses had big bunches of corn drying on their walls, suspended with ropes. Apparently they were well nourished, as there weren't any excessively short people in the film.

My father lived his youth in Tuupovaara, a settlement in Eastern Finland in the middle of forest and tens of kilometers from the nearest city. He said that they lived practically in subsistence economy, by fishing and farming, rather than in money-based economy. Logging and construction were ways to get some income. When he visited Haiti, he was a bit shocked from seeing how life was there and said that in no situation would their life in Tuupovaara be that bad. Getting basic needs met does not depend on technology, it depens on how people organize their lives. In Shijiazai as in Tuupovaara, poverty does not mean malnourishment or exploitation. Rather, it means hard manual work, little education, shoddy houses and thrift.

Talking about education, the film didn't touch literacy directly, but stacks of books and magazines were nowhere to be seen. Another factor which hinted at low reading fluency was lack of imagination. All topics discussed in the film were very concrete and practical. There were some memories from cultural revolution and a few mentions of work gigs in the cities. Other than that, they only talked about things that happen in the village.

Social porn does not turn on healthy people. This film managed to pull off the hard trick of describing backward life as normal. The film had low technical quality - it was more like a collection of home videos without plot, exposition of background etc. It was still the best out of 4 films who described rural workers in China, because it had insider's perspective.

Overall, about half of the films in Made in China series were designed to raise awareness of various social issues. It mirrored Western mass media's bias of seeing China primarily as a collection of human rights violations, third world poverty and totalitarian oppression. This bias nowadays irritates me after seeing what overseas Chinese write about their country themselves.

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