Trinh T. Minh-ha's WHAT ABOUT CHINA? is a meditative, lyrical documentary that uses archive footage from rural China in the early 1990s to talk about China's cultural heritage, the difficulty of navigating its complex politics, and role of women in society. The director - a UC Berkeley polymath - lulls into the film with her soft quiet voice but the topics are raw and profound. We are also treated to folk singing that speaks to the richness of a culture that is being "harmonised" into an obedient flatness from the centre. There is somethng defiant but also disturbing about contrasting these images of people still living in a traditional society when we know that at the same time China's great cities were being industrialised, "modernised" and turned into the capitals of entrepreneurial wealth that they are today. In watching a film like this you realise what has been left behind, or possibly erased, in that process. For many of us, this will be the first and only images we have seen that give a candid look at rural Chinese life, and for that reason alone, this is a must-watch film.
WHAT ABOUT CHINA has a running time of 135 minutes. The film won the New Vision award at the CPH:DOX festival and the Persistence of Vision award at the San Francisco Film Festival earlier this year and is nominated for the Grierson Award at this year's BFI London Film Festival. Tickets are available here.
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