Sundance film sheds light on China’s government
January 30, 2015
The air in Datong is cloudy with smog and soot as it is shown on screen. The economy has been dependent on coal reserves for over 60 years, a dirty and unsustainable reliance, but its Mayor hopes to change that.
Geng Yanbo is a man who turns dreams into action. The mayor of Datong, a Chinese city located in the Shanxi province, he decided to restore his municipality as a tourist attraction, even though it meant tearing down thousands of homes and spending vast amounts of money. His controversial vision of reviving the most polluted city in China is the subject of the Sundance film "The Chinese Mayor," which offers a unique and honest glimpse into the life of a government official in China.
"This mayor believes the city should be relying more on a clean economy and he finds that the city should be relying more on the culture. The city happens to be the ancient capital 1,600 years ago so it has a lot of cultural relics," explained Zhao Qi, who produced the film.
To accomplish his goal of turning the city’s ancient history into an economic boom, Geng began to work on recreating the ancient city wall, the first step in his plan to reconstruct the Datong as it was thousands of years ago. With the building of the wall came the forced relocation of the families whose homes stood in its way.
According to Zhao, the film was created to help both its creators and its audience better understand China’s government.
"I always wanted to make something that can help us understand how this country is running. There always should be a very good communication between the government, the administration, and the civilians. We were trying to look for some stories that can reflect such a message and then we found Mr. Geng."
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Fortunately for the movie’s creators, Geng allowed cameras to tail him constantly as he attended meetings, listened to angry citizens, and oversaw construction.
"He actually is pretty open. He allows me to get closer. Maybe he thinks it’s good to build up a transparency around him so people know what he is doing."
Zhao told The Park Record he hopes the film will help people reconsider the stereotypes they see about China in international media.
"There are many complicated situations and it’s not just good or bad, white or black, government is always very bad, cracking down on the people, people are always very weak. Sometimes the situation is not like that so we want to show the complications of this country and then if, by any chance, watching this film the people could go ‘Oh so this is a different China than is found in mass media. There is more.’"
With the breakdown of stereotypes, says Zhao, comes an opportunity for greater understanding.
"If there is any way that we can build up a more-friendly, frank communication between people either in the form of arts, documentary, or films, there will be less misunderstanding. China [and the U.S.], whether you like it or not, this is the most important relationship today in the world. You always have to work together."
"The Chinese Mayor" is an entry in the World Documentary Competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It is screening Saturday, Jan. 31, at 9:15 a.m. at Holiday Village Cinema 2.