This highly experimental twist on the ethnographic documentary visits the town of Yumen, in China’s northwest Gansu province, a once-thriving, oil-rich community in the 1980s that has been left depleted and derelict. Strikingly shot on film, Yumen tells the story of this ghost town through a series of wandering characters and inventive vignettes in which even the spirit of Bruce Springsteen is summoned to comment on a world in ruins. A collaboration between Chinese and American filmmakers, Yumen pushes the boundaries of the documentary aesthetic in depicting China’s past and present.
Directors’ note :
Set in the quasi-ghost town of Yumen that once thrived with oil production in China’s arid northwest, Yumen is a haunting, fragmented tale of hungry souls, restless youth, a wandering artist and a lonely woman, all searching for human connection and a collective past among the town’s crumbling landscape. One part “ruin porn”, one part ghost story, and shot entirely on 16mm, the film brings together narrative gesture, performance art, and socialist realism into a crude and radiant collage that not only plays with convention and defies genre, but also pays homage to a disappearing life-world and a fading medium.
“I made Yumen with two friends and talented artists: Xu Ruotao, who’s an abstract painter and filmmaker (he made a film called Rumination that I liked very much) and a performance artist named Huang Xiang, who is just now going into filmmaking. […] We made this film that deals with ghost stories, the weight of that tremendous transformation and also it’s a kind of playful ruin porn, a piece of performing art.”
Language(s):Mandarin Chinese, Gansu dialect
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