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China Screen: A Family in the Sinkhole

Year: 2018, 71 mins
Code: IC-CSFamily

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Mother and Son in a small community are confronting each other about the future of their village.

Situated in the biggest sinkhole in China’s Yunnan Province, the small village of Daguoquan has attracted an increasing number of visitors in recent years which affected every villager’s fate. In the view of the local authorities and some residents the future of the village lies in the further development of tourism. Their belief is that more tourists will generate more income for the villagers. Unfortunately, not everybody supports this view, and many conflicts emerge within the community.

The film looks at the fate of young Xiuxiang, who, in line with the tourist development plan, and supported by the local authorities, starts to clean and beautify the area. However, he soon has to confront the resistance of his own mother, who is unwilling to remove the rubbish from her room, and, for her own reasons, insists on keeping her pig in the stone cave.

This family dispute serves as a metaphor to illustrate the controversies arising within rural China in relation to contemporary economic and social developments. As the director’s camera continues to observe the events, we also witness the realities of the relationship between the villagers and the local authorities. Thanks to the pig, for Xiuxiang and his mother, 2016 will stay a very memorable year!

Yao Zubiao graduated from the Beijing Film Academy. The Family in Sinkhole, was named Best Documentary at the 2nd Zurong Dialect Film Festival and was featured at Beijing College Student Film Festival.

"When we think about the conflict between two generations, the concept may strike you as one which seems unnecessarily aggressive, confrontational, or at the very least a symbol for an unbridgeable gap between people. Indeed, while one generation may define aspects such as family, home and responsibility differently than the other, this does not automatically result in a generational chasm. However, the cracks within the relationship of people become visible, the subject of unspoken words and accusations, perhaps even visible if you dare look closer at certain family portraits. Of course, many of these conflicts may never come to the surface, but they are bottled up inside, and if the right moment arrives, who knows how and if they erupt.

In recent years, the place has been discovered by tourists and backpackers exploring its natural beauty and visiting the village. While the younger generation, such as Yang Xiuxiang welcomes them and realizes the opportunity for the place and its people, the older generation, for instance, his mother, 74-year-old He Pingxiu, is unwilling to adapt. As local authorities start coming up with a development plan for the village demanding a lot of changes from its inhabitants, the conflict between the young and the old starts to escalate.

Although the camera occasionally captures moments of everyday comedy, as the film progresses the depth of the generational conflict becomes visible. While the argument between mother and son about how to keep a pig, how to make a farmhouse look presentable and in general, be more hygienic may look rather comical at first, as a viewer you start to realize what is at stake here. Essentially, there are two ways of living fighting with each other over the smallest of detail: the one unwilling to let go of a secluded life in peace, the other ready for some kind of progress and more connection to the outside world.

Over the course of its running time of 71 minutes, Yao Zubiao’s camera never takes sides, stays neutral while at the same time focusing on each of these sides, weighing the possible pros and cons of the decision and conflict at hand. In the end, we have to understand his film, perhaps as an example, a mirror of a much wider development within a country facing a shift in many aspects; from politics to society, one which will not happen silently, but is necessary. Development, or “devilment” as He Pingxiu remarks in one scene, is inevitable, but there is the question of how will be left behind, or if we simply return to an old way of doing things.

In conclusion, “A Family in a Sinkhole” is an interesting film about the conflict between maintaining an old system of values or standards and the way towards progress. While the decision may seem simple to us, the repercussions are quite severe, testing the unity of a family as Yao Zubiao’s film shows." 

Yao Zubiao, Asian Movie Pulse

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