All posts filed under: Film

“Lift” and the Future of Uyghur Film

When Memetjan Semet first came to Urumchi he remembers being shocked at how isolated everyone felt from each other. For the first time in his life he didn’t have his family and childhood friends to lean on for support. He also noticed that he wasn’t alone in this condition. No one in the big city seemed to care about others around themselves. Instead, people kept their heads down. They focused on their smart phones, chatted with friends in the virtual world, and ignored the difficulties of people nearby. The problems of strangers were not something they felt they needed to be concerned with. One time while waiting for an elevator in a large office building in the Uyghur section of the city, he noticed a disabled woman hobbling down the hallway. No one held the doors for her. Everyone pushed her to the side while getting on and off of the elevator. Over the next few minutes he watched her grow more and more defeated. Eventually she gave up, and began the long painful process …

Review of the Uyghur blockbuster “Money on the Road”

Update: A full-length version of Money on the Road (featuring Chinese and English subtitles) is now available to view for free on Youtube. In the autumn of 2014, just in time for the long ten-day break for the National Holiday and Qurban, the Uyghur comedian Abdukerim Abliz released his first full-length Uyghur language feature film (with Chinese and English subtitles). The comedy titled Money on the Road (or This is What Money Does from the Uyghur, and, Running with Money on the Road from the Chinese) features an ensemble cast of stars, including a cameo by the famous singer Abdulla. It follows the misadventures of three Uyghur farmers who come to the city as migrant workers to participate in Ürümchi’s urban renewal. Abdullah, who plays the role of a construction manager named Musa in charge of the demolition of degrading one-story housing on the south side of Ürümchi’s ring road, invites the three down-on-their-luck farmers from his home town near Kucha to come to the city and work for cash. Although they arrive in the city with “hungry-eyes” as …

Xu Xin’s “Karamay” and Life in the New Economy

Xu Xin’s monumental 2010 film, Karamay (above, part 1, with English subtitles), is a meditation on the relationship humans have to the failings of ideology-driven Modernist political projects in our current historical moment. Using long-takes and repetitive framing shot during visits to Xinjiang in 2007, Xu Xin draws out the long duration of trauma and feelings of injustice. With the exception of a minority of Uyghurs and Kazakhs, the majority of Mandarin speakers featured in this award-winning 356-minute film came from elsewhere. Most of the families in the film came to China’s far Northwestern province of Xinjiang in the 1960s to work in the oil fields and protect the Chinese frontier. Trading rural social networks for the future benefits of membership in the industrial proletariat, these parents placed their lives in the hands of the Party. They committed themselves to a national-communist project thousands of miles from their natal homes; they developed skills for coping with displacement; they disciplined their bodies and the bodies of their children as weapons in a war with nature. Out on …

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Wen Muye’s “Battle” and Uyghur Life in Chinese Cities

The short film Battle (with English subtitles) offers viewers a perspective of Uyghur life in major Chinese cities outside of Xinjiang. Having lived in Northwest China for extended periods of time, it was striking to see how evocative it is of life for Uyghurs outside of their homeland. Last week on a 24-hour layover in Shanghai I met five Uyghurs and one Uzbek. The first couple I met were at the base of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower bargaining for student priced tickets to the 220 yuan observation deck. The young man and his young girlfriend were from Uzbekistan and Ürümchi respectively; he was a non-matriculated student at a local Shanghai university and she lived in Shanghai with her family. Judging by the amount of jewelry and makeup she had on under her floral headscarf, she was just getting to know and impress her Uzbek suitor. They were an interesting pair; helping each other negotiate in a Chinese world. The next trio of Uyghurs I met were selling hashish in whispered voices on the streets …