A Sunday interlude from the CDT Cultural Affairs Bureau: Baidu recently posted a description of the legendary documentary “Tiexi District” (铁西区; literally "Iron West District," 2003), directed by Wang Bing(王兵). Focusing on the once flourishing Tiexi industrial zone in the northeast Chinese city of Shenyang, the 9-hour award-winning film is perhaps the most vivid--certainly the most complete--examination of the massive collapse of China's state-run economy in the wake of Deng Xiaoping's 1992 "Southern Tour." Translated by CDT (video clips available from Youku):
This independent film is broken into three parts: "The Factory", "Flashy Pink Street" and "Railway."
"Factory" 240 minutes
The protagonists of this film are three factories built in 1934: a smelting plant, a steel rolling mill, and an electric cable plant. At its height, the smelting plant boasted more than 10,000 workers. Now only 20 to 30 people occupy the cavernous, deteriorating workshop. By film's end, the smelter has closed, the workers have ended up convalescing at an infirmary 30 kilometers away. The cable factory, unable to pay its heating bills, forces staff to take vacation and the office becomes coated in a layer of ice more than half a meter thick. The rolling mill is demolished.
"Flashy Pink Street," 210 minutes
"Smoking injures the lungs, drinking harms the stomach; spas are too expensive, karaoke parlors are wasteful, gamblin on mahjong is disruptive to society; buy playing the lottery is economical and has substantial benefits...." The nameless lottery promoter is as eloquent as Zhao Benshan, but the desolation of the deserted scenery casts the excitement of the past in an absurd light. Flashy Pink Street workers lived in shantytowns. A group of 17 or 18-year-old boys used to while away the time together, occasionally by chasing young girls around. By the end of 2000, the residents of Flashy Pink Street were fighting developers as their shacks were demolished to make way for new high-rise apartments. Eventually the workers are forced to trudge through the snow and mud, carrying the doors form their former houses through the Flashy Pink Street ruins under a cloud of hopelessness.
"Railway" 90 minutes
Trains do the transportation work for all the factories. Railway staff wander back and forth between the factories all day. Around the rail yard, non-residents and others with no fixed homes remove cargo from the trains for living. Middle-aged Ming Jiaodu and his son, Du Yong, have worked the trains for the past 20 years. They've also worked as planted agents for the railway police, keeping an eye on others in the yards.
"Iron West District" director Wang Bing graduated from Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts. This 600,000 RMB ($80,000) film was his directorial debut. Using a small DV camera, Wang Bing shot the entire film by himself, filming for 18 months and collected 300 hours' worth of tape. Every morning at 8:00am, Wang woke to go to work with the workers, returning home between midnight an 2am. By doing this, he was able to integrate himself into the workers' lives and film freely.
Best Documentary, 2rd Mexico City International Film Festival.
Best Documentary, 2003 Macedo Documentary Film Festival (France).
Best Documentary, 2003 Japan Yamagata International Film Festival.
"Tiexi District" was sponsored by the Rotterdam Film Festival Hubert Bals Fund.
One commenter noted it took him two days to watch the film in its entirety.
See English commentary on the film at the Chunking Express blog.