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ND screens controversial Chinese film

Andrew Thagard | Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Notre Dame’s Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures will host a screening of filmmaker Li Yang’s “Blind Shaft” at 8 p.m. tonight in DeBartolo Hall. The film, which showcases the lives of workers in China’s mining industry, was denounced by the communist nation.

“I think [the screening] is a unique opportunity and a good way for students at Notre Dame to have a glimpse of what certain people’s lives are like in China,” said Jonathan Noble, a visiting professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures.

Johnson, who is a personal friend of Yang, is partly responsible for today’s screening of the film. He worked with Yang to translate the film and write English subtitles, and he assisted in bringing the work to the attention of foreign diplomats and journalists in Beijing.

The film, according to Noble, utilizes a documentary style to tell the story of two con-artists who concoct a scam to collect money from a coal mining company in rural China. The duo meets a child whose kindness causes one of the members to think twice about their actions.

“It’s very realistic in terms of the depiction of the lives of coal miners in rural China,” Noble said.

Parts of the film were, in fact, shot underground in privately owned mines without the approval of the government and at great personal risk for the crew. Many of the characters are played by amateur actors who also work in the mine or live in the village. Ying has not disclosed the identity of the village in order to protect the identity of these actors.

While the film is not officially “banned” in China, Chinese government officials have criticized the film’s subject manner and Ying’s failure to seek approval for production and distribution.

In China, individuals or companies interested in making a film must seek the approval of a government organization prior to production and have it screened and validated prior to distribution, Noble said.

Ying chose to do neither. He supported international viewings of the film, which the Chinese government also forbids without approval. For these reasons, Ying’s actions and the film were denounced by China.

Outside China, “Blind Shaft” has received several awards. During a screening at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City it was recognized as the best narrative film, and it won the Silver Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival.

After the film, Yang will host a question and answer session with Noble translating.

Born in Xian, China and educated at home and abroad in Germany, Yang has been involved with acting for most of his life. This is his first feature-length film. The next screening of “Blind Shaft” will take place in Los Angeles for the American Film Institute on Nov. 14.

The Notre Dame viewing of the film was co-sponsored by the Center for Asian Studies, the Kellogg Institute for International Studies and the Kroc Institute for Peace Studies.