The Brag

[Sydney Film Festival 2010] Review: New Beijing: Reinventing a City

In Arts, Film Reviews, Sydney Film Festival 2010 on June 8, 2010 at 11:21 am

New Beijing: Reinventing a City (AUSTRALIA)

Screened Sunday June 6, no repeat.

As we discover in Georgia Wallace-Crabbe’s brisk 52 min doco, the metropolis of Beijing is currently in a state of flux. Like many large cities, it’s a city of levels. On one, there’s the architectural splendour of the Olympic “Birds Nest Stadium,” the Watercube and the National Theatre dome, buildings which represent the prosperous, world-superpower image of China the government wants you to see. On the other, there’s the slums, traditional areas with hundreds of years of history that are slowly being swallowed up by this rapid development.

In some cases, it’s clearly pointless – the facades of buildings on an historical boulevard have been knocked down and replaced by tacky Hollywood-style versions, turning history into a tourist attraction. In others – such as the skewering Z-shape of the CCTV (state television network) building – the audacity of the design is a powerful symbol of innovation and progress even if some others would prefer they’d instead “just make better television programs.”

Whether or not that “progress” is a reality is another matter. One such dissenting voice comes from photographer Zhang Jinqi. He runs the “Memories of China” photographic project which documents the precious historical areas of Beijing still remaining. He’s our spokesperson in this debate, an endearingly funny chap with a real love for his city and memories of his childhood. And when ones sees Arup engineering execs gloating over frivolous gifts while nearby locals are forced to prop up their homes’ unstable walls with girders, it’s not hard to be sympathetic with his point of view.

As Wallace-Crabbe, on hand to field questions after the screening, revealed, the film was pulled from competition mid-way through a festival in China; it seems the communist government knows these engineering marvels, layered against the patchwork Beijing skyline, are as much wish-fulfilment as symbols of the real China. [JB]

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