PROGRAM 3 / PROGRAM 49
FRIDAY, APRIL 30 | THE SHAFT | 7:30 PM | DGA 3
DATE: FRIDAY, APRIL 30
TIME: 7:30 PM
VENUE: DGA 3
THE SHAFT (Dixia de Tiankong)
(Peoples’ Republic of China, 2009) Dir./Scr.: Zhang Chi
Video (originated on 35mm), 98 min., color, narrative, in Mandarin w/ E.S
Whether in John Ford’s classic HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941) or John Sayles’ harrowing MATEWAN (1987), coal-mining communities are portrayed as shadow towns that the rest of society is happy to ignore even as they profit from the blood and sweat of their labor. In China, the bleakness of such life is magnified by the personal peril that coal workers face; it is the most dangerous mining nation on Earth. However, for Beijing filmmaker Zhang Chi, it’s not the mines that pose the greatest threat. In his debut, THE SHAFT, it’s a toxic brew of personal foibles, the pettiness of peers, and vagrancies of fate that threaten to drown dreams of betterment.
THE SHAFT focuses on the struggles of the Ding family to escape a Western Chinese mining village. Divided into three separate stories, the film begins with daughter Jingshui, whose good looks attract the envy of nattering neighbors who spread a rumor that poisons her relationship with both her boyfriend and co-workers. The second story follows brother Jingsheng, a truant high school student who wants to avoid his father’s fate as a mine-worker but whose poor decisions may turn that fear into a reality. Lastly, the film tracks the Ding’s aging and ailing patriarch, Baogen, who is realizing he may not have the time to resolve his life’s loose ends.
Chi directs these declining fortunes not as loud implosions but as quiet atrophy; the Dings are dying the proverbial death of a thousand paper cuts, and Chi lingers on their inner turmoil using surprisingly tranquil imagery. He especially favors landscape scenes of the town itself; there is a repeated shot of an elevated train track that is always off in the near distance. Jingsheng often stops to watch the train go by — it’s the road out of the village after all — but he’s resigned to knowing he’ll always be watching, not riding. As bleak as this may all sound, Chi offers a quietly hopeful tale, one that elicits empathy rather than sympathy for the Ding family. The “shaft” may pull at their fortunes but they refuse to bury their ambitions down within.
— Oliver Wang
THE SHAFT is co-presented by the Global Film Initiative and is part of the 2010 Global lens film series. For more information visit www.globalfilm.org.
COMMUNITY CO-PRESENTER: Mandarin Friends Meet Up Group