The film opens on the morning of December 8th 2007, in Karamay’s Xiaoxihu cemetery. Daybreak casts a cold grey light over faraway mountains and the Gobi sands. As the camera moves from grave to grave, it zeroes in on the photographs encased in glass on every tombstone. All are of children. Exactly 13 years ago, Karamay’s Friendship Hall was the site of a horrible tragedy: nearly 800 grade and middle-school students and their teachers, hand-picked to entertain a delegation of education officials, were in the midst of a performance when a fire broke out in the hall. The students were instructed to remain in their seats so that the visiting executives could exit first. By the time the fire had been contained, 323 people had perished, 288 of them children between the ages of 6 and 14. All of the officials survived. After the tragedy, the story was heavily censored in the Chinese state media. To this day, the families of Karamay have not been allowed to publicly mourn their children.
In December 1994, the top primary-school students in Karamay, China, assembled at the town theater to perform for smiling Communist Party and city functionaries. This was a high honor as childhood events go, a ceremonial rite of passage attended by the heads of the community. Out of nowhere a short circuit ignited something (it’s not known exactly what), provoking this infamous announcement: “Everybody keep quiet. Don’t move. Let the leaders go first.” And so they did. When the smoke cleared, 288 children lay dead, along with 35 teachers and other adults. The government suppressed this heinous display of cowardice and “leadership,” blocking all outlets for the parents’ grief and outrage. Xu Xin’s six-hour documentary, Karamay, is a landmark in journalistic diligence and a dedicated act of commemoration and healing. The opener of the six-film series, “Fearless: Chinese Independent Documentaries,” Karamay generously gives families and teachers space to relate their memories of that awful December day – and how it forever clouded the way they view their country, leaders, and fellow citizens. Made with the expectation that more foreigners would see it than Chinese, this human-scale epic speaks in a language that transcends borders and governments.
11.6GB | 5 h 55 min | 960×540 | mkv