Saturday, April 05, 2014

Take Two ’14: The Reborn of Beichuan (short)

They are not “Reborn” in a physical or spiritual sense. This is strictly a bureaucratic designation for the “substitute” children born to parents who lost their first and legally only child in the horrific Sichuan Earthquake. They are already a sizeable and growing demographic. U.S. based Beichuan native Zijian Mu follows the lasting repercussions of the Sichuan quake for one set of parents fortunate enough to have a Reborn child and one anguished mother who does not in The Reborn of Beichuan, which screens in New York during the 2014 Take Two Film Festival.

The exact death toll remains unknown because of government censorship, but the province’s children died in disproportionally high numbers due to shoddy graft-laden school construction (as muckraking artist Ai Weiwei and others have documented). Many surviving parents have tried to plug the holes in their hearts with an allowable “Reborn” child. Jiang Hongyou and Fu Guangjun were duly blessed with a little girl whom they understandably dote upon. She is now old enough to recognize photos of her big brother, but they are waiting until she is a few years older to explain his heartbreaking fate. It is the kind of tricky parenting question luckier parents of New Beichuan will grapple with more and more. In contrast, they have no problem grilling nonplussed kindergarten officials with safety questions. Well, they had better get used to it.

Yang Jianfen would dearly wish to be a similar position. Still grieving her teen-aged daughter, but no longer able to conceive, she yearns to adopt. However, her increasingly cold and passive aggressive husband Fang Yanggui will not cooperate with her efforts, particularly when it comes to the requisite fees. (Old Fang probably did not expect to get called out for being a jerkweed in outlets around the world, but that is what he gets). Still, his concerns about money are not completely unwarranted. After all, the Communist government only loaned the 8,000 Yuan down-payments for displaced residents’ replacement flats in shiny New Beichuan. So much for: “to each according to their needs.”

Sadly, Mu’s family was also touched by the Sichuan tragedy, so he well understands the raw emotions at play. His treatment of surviving parents is unflaggingly sensitive, but still acutely penetrating. Culled from a larger documentary project (with the help of co-editor David Barreda), Reborn serves as a teaser and a bite sized introduction to the issues it addresses and has been released to the world for web and festival viewing (it can be seen here via the Asia Society).

Mu leaves aside the wider political context (at least for now), so Reborn is probably best seen in conjunction with films like Ai Weiwei’s Disturbing the Peace and So Sorry, both of which are also findable online. Nevertheless, the twenty-two minute documentary packs a powerful punch. Highly recommended, The Reborn of Beichuan screens conventionally this Wednesday (4/9) at the Take Two Film Festival, with an opportunity for Q&A with Mu afterward.