Saturday, December 31, 2005
I’ve been pitching an idea for a documentary series on Olympics lately (I know I know – all talk, no action). The idea is to follow eight Beijing individuals in the last two years of Beijing’s preparation for the 2008 Olympics.
I thought this would be totally PG. No discussion of politics. No criticism of the government. No prostitute, or AIDS patient, or displaced migrant worker. Just 8 simple individuals as their lives are being impacted by China’s whirlwind development, and Beijing’s frenzied buildup for the Olympics.
I sent a Chinese synopsis to a Chinese production company. The general manager liked the idea. But he’s very concerned with words in my synopsis like “impact” and “reflection (反思）”. “That sounds too political. Can you change them?” He asked.
I sent the full proposal in English to another production company under the State Council Information Office, an organization under the Ministry of Publicity (originally Ministry of Propaganda). A week later I called the producer back. Her verdict? “It’s too political.” Beat. “Your proposal sounded like those from the West.” She added.
I scratched my head to figure out what’s political about my proposal. Is it the “It will explore the complex social and cultural changes brought by China’s rapid development”, “the series will encourage the viewers to draw their own conclusions on China’s rise as a new economic and political power”, or “the filmmaker intends to present the complex economic and cultural realities in China”?
If the word “reflection” by itself raises alarm, if any discussion of the status quo is considered political, then honestly I don’t know what’s so great about having thousands of billionaires and millions of cars on the road (I know I know, people need to be fed).
I recently had coffee with an artist friend of mine who went to the US, became quite successful and came back to China to PLAY art. Over coffee, he looked at me thoughtfully and said,
“I think life is like the matrix in that movie. We all play only small parts. People can get out of the matrix after having satisfied two conditions – first, they have to have reached somewhere in that matrix, like you and me, then something has to happen to take all of that away, make us question the matrix. Only then can we leave it and be free. Meanwhile we can still come in and out of the matrix, play with it and enjoy our freedom at the same time.”
I looked at him and thought – you are simply trying to rationalize your existence with that over-used metaphor. Me? I’m stuck with my matrix and it sucks.
Lauren Hill rules over Keanu Reeves, any day.