Wednesday, October 21, 2015
In the Underground 
TimeOut Chicago (M. Smith) review
In the Underground  (directed by Zhantao Song) is a well shot documentary about the life of a mining community (both above ground and below ground) in China today. The film recently played at the 2015 (51st Annual) Chicago International Film Festival.
I didn't come to the film with a great deal of expectations, 'cept that it was playing at noon (for a discount) on my day off and I generally find anything that is set "a little off the beaten path" (NOT in London, NY or Paris, or in this case NOT in Beijing / Shanghai) interesting. This film necessarily had to take place "in the (Chinese) provinces" and hence I did expect to learn something. And did I ;-)
First, the cinematography was actually outstanding. Near the beginning, the director takes the Viewers with an elevator load of miners down from the surface, several thousand feet, to their "actual place of work." When the elevator started moving down, the sky was still visible at the top of the elevator shaft. By the time they reached their destination, "the opening to the sky" seemed about as large as a small "star in the sky." It made for a remarkable intro to an almost necessarily remarkable film.
I would imagine that miners from throughout the world would probably appreciate more the technical details of the film. To a layman like me, the hydraulic pylons holding up the roofs of the passage ways that the miners passed through looked both relatively modern and (eeek... ;-) "crooked" / "slanted" at times. I honestly don't know how much of that was simply "well that's the way it is in a mine (any mine)" (or simply dangerous). But I certainly left the film with an appreciation of some of the dangers of being a miner, period.
The film also followed the lives of some of the miners above the surface along with their families. ONE THING that REALLY SURPRISED ME (and would PLEASANTLY SURPRISE READERS here) was an extended treatment given TO A FAIRLY LARGE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY, MEETING IN A FAIRLY LARGE CHRISTIAN CHURCH in this Chinese mining town.
The director, a truly happy-go-lucky guy, very happy to have been given the opportunity to show the film here in the United States, was present for Q/A after the screening. I therefore asked him AS A CATHOLIC PRIEST about the Christian community pictured in the film and whether such communities "were common" "in the Provinces" outside of China's major cities. The director smiled and responded that he DOESN'T KNOW OF A SINGLE COAL MINING COMMUNITY IN CHINA (and there SEVERAL HUNDRED OF THEM) that DOES NOT HAVE A LARGE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY PRESENT THERE. He added that the Church shown in the film was built by miners' families (wives and mothers) themselves and again underlined that there simply isn't a Chinese mining community anywhere in China today that wouldn't have a large Christian community associated with it.
I COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND THIS. Mining is a dangerous occupation and I just can't imagine how either the miners below or their families above could function WITHOUT an "outlet for prayer." My own Religious Order, the Friar Servants of Mary, was built around the devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows ... the loved ones around a family member who's in danger or dying. We have a Saint, Saint Anthony Pucci, OSM who promoted this devotion in coastal Italy to families of fishermen who again risked their lives for the sake of earning a living for their families.
So I left this film happy as can be to have learned something of China that I didn't know before. I've heard that Christianity HAS GROWN in CHINA (and, in fact, despite persecution in the Mao Zedong years of China after the Revolution, it grew even then). But folks, CHRISTIANITY MAY BE GROWING "IN THE PROVINCES" IN CHINA EVEN FASTER THAN ANY OF US COULD IMAGINE. And that is honestly wonderful news ;-)
Now if it would seem that the film was ONLY (or even predominantly) about the Christian community in this provincial Chinese mining town, that would not be true. THE FILM IS ABOUT THE LIFE OF THIS MINING TOWN -- The film-makers follow the miners to taverns after their shifts to document some of their conversations / letting off steam after work (hence why the film would probably get an R-rating, due to their language in said scenes ;-). The lives / going-ons within some of the families of the miners is documented as well. Some of the street-life / festivalscelebrated in the town (including lovely and very traditional Chinese "street opera") is portrayed. And after a miner died in mining accident, a quite traditional Chinese funeral for him is followed as well. What I wish to say here is that in the midst of this _very Chinese_ town a large and vibrant Christian community is portrayed AS PART AND PARCEL of that community and that I found remarkable and honestly wonderful ;-)
I love "International Film Fests" ... ONE _ALWAYS LEARNS_ something NEW ;-)
* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser.
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