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China Screen: My Father and My Mother

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China Screen: My Father and My Mother


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The long-term portrait of a Chinese peasant family in a remote mountain village.

Over a period of 30 years, the prominent Chinese photographer Jiao Bo took more than 10,000 photographs and videos of his parents during his trips to their home in rural China, revealing an unvarnished and affectionate portrayal of the everyday life of a simple Chinese family.

This film is drawn from a selection of photos and videos that Jiao has shot since the 1980s, during his frequent trips to his parents’ house in rural China. It’s an unvarnished and affectionate portrayal of the everyday life of a simple Chinese family in a remote mountain village. The aging couple works the land and looks after the photographer’s disabled elder brother. They bicker constantly, but are clearly devoted to each other.

For Jiao, photographing his mother and father has been his way to keep his family close by, all the while his profession needs him in the country’s capita.l Over the years, as we see his parents change, the intimacy within the family changes, too – until, inevitably, death approaches.

Out of more than 600 hours of raw video material, Jiao creates a moving and intimate love story that provides insight into the lives of elderly people in the Chinese countryside.

"Iron Moon is a powerful film, and portrays a class of people seldom seen on the screen. The first worker-poet the viewer is acquainted with is a man named Wu Niaoniao 乌鸟鸟. At a public reading, Niaoniao performs his poem “Rhapsody on the Advance of Heavy Snow” (大雪压境狂想曲 dàxuě yājìng kuángxiǎngqǔ), intercut with scenes of snow falling onto trees, people, and an urban road filled with cars. Niaoniao is an unemployed forklift driver, and struggles to find new work. Later on in the film, Niaoniao goes to a job fair, baffling the recruiters. At one point, he tells somebody that he can write poetry, only for the man to ask back, “What do you do?”

Jike Ayou 吉克阿优 is the second poet; he’s introduced writing a poem while he rides a train with his little boy. Ayou is a member of the Yi people, one of China’s ethnic minority groups. He is shown visiting his family in a rural village in Sichuan. The third poet, Wu Xia 邬霞, is a garment worker living in Shenzhen. She tells the camera that she’s an introverted person, and wishes that she could live as free as a bird. She loves dresses, but can only dream about being able to afford the stuff she’s hired to make. One of her poems describes ironing a dress, and is addressed to whatever unknown girl ends up buying it.

The fourth poet, Chen Nianxi 陈年喜, is a demolitions worker who digs and blows up rocks in mines. It’s a miserable and dangerous job, but Nianxi’s sick parents and wife and son are all dependant on him. Alone in his room after a hard day’s work, Nianxi writes a poem to the son he has to live away from. The final poet is Lao Jing 老井, a coal miner with 25 years of experience under his belt. Jing is the oldest poet featured in the film, and the poem he shows is a commemorative piece about some fellow miners who had died in a work accident.

Throughout the film, Iron Moon alternates footage from the daily lives of its poets with readings of their work set to imagery, music, and on-screen text. I found the music too sentimental for my tastes, but the poems themselves pack quite a punch, as often hopeful as they are sad. Near the end of the film, there is also a section about Xu Lizhi, including a heartbreaking interview with his parents. In a country (and world) increasingly occupied with money and technology, Xu’s father is skeptical that poetry can have any power or influence today. He thinks, had his son Lizhi never died, he might never have become famous.

Is there still room today for poetry? Xu’s father and Niaoniao’s job recruiters might say no, but the message of Iron Moon suggests otherwise. No matter what obstacles its poet-workers face, they hang on and persevere, using poetry as a vehicle to console and express themselves. While it’s a valid argument that only political and social reforms can change the situation of China’s suffering working class, Iron Moon shows poetry gives these dispossessed people an outlet which allows them to be heard."

Tristan Shaw, Sup China

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