At 14:28 on May 12, 2008, a magnitude 8.0 earthquake destroyed a large area around Beichuan city, in China’s Sichuan province. Filmmaker Du Haibin arrived ten days later, and started to film this extraordinary documentary of the aftermath, recording how a totally devastated region can respond to a great natural disaster. Du returned 210 days after the earthquake, around the Spring Festival in 2009: material from those two periods makes up his powerful film.
This is not a polemical attack on government unpreparedness, nor a melodramatic tableau of suffering. Instead, Du makes extremely subtle use of the material he gathers, creating suggestive juxtapositions while presenting a broad range of material. This is independent documentary at its most sophisticated: the viewer is trusted to absorb and ponder the evidence, and come up with his or her own conclusions about the significance of what is onscreen.
There are, though, telling scenes: an unimaginably sad visit by a family to the school dormitory of their missing son. Panoramas of destruction, populated by crowds of survivors, scrounging, hustling to retrieve saleable metal scrap, look like visions of post-apocalyptic horror. Officials visit and grandstand while bystanders complain about government neglect or incompetence. The eerie figure of a haggard, mentally ill young man haunts the film, an image of an unstoppable will to continue amidst unimaginable loss and devastation. —Vancouver International Film Festival
DU Haibin (b. 1972) is one of the prominent figures active in the contemporary Chinese independent documentary scene. A graduate from department of photography of Beijing Film Academy in 2000, DU has gained international recognition with Along the Railway (2001, Best Documentary of the First Chinese Independent Film Festival, Special Mention at the 2001 Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival), Umbrella(2007, Official Selection for the 64th Venice International Film Festival Orizzonti Section and the 20th IDFA, Honorable Mention at the 30th Cinéma du Réel International Documentary Film Festival) and 1428 (Winner of Orizzonti prize for Best Documentary at the 66th Venice Film Festival), with visceral, gritty texture and exceptional poetics. —ranteahouse.com
Above: Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel's La pivellina. The recently wrapped Los Angeles Film Festival succeeded in reinventing itself