A short documentary in the world's largest wholesale mall.
Interview with Director Jessica Kingdon
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
I was interested in working in China, and intrigued by the idea of the Yiwu Market, which is the largest wholesale mall in the world. I wanted to make a film that focuses on the quieter, more subtle moments that could place within such a large and overwhelmingly chaotic place whose occupants are focused on buying and selling. I thought the mix of visual abundance and everyday life would make a compelling story.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
I think the film offers viewers an interesting point of view of a place where people usually go to bargain, not to look and listen without agenda. The market is relevant to most people (a large portion of the world’s consumer goods pass through the doors of this mall) and yet and yet it can feel so foreign. Most of what we hear about China is a mix of extremes and stereotypes, many of which have to do with consumerism and manufacturing. The film offers a glance into the everyday human life of that world.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
The film is personal in that it focuses on its subjects' very intimate moments within daily life: sleeping, eating, taking care of children, scrolling through phones. Ultimately, in contrast to the extreme setting in which the film is shot, these simple moments are ones every viewer can recognize from their own lives. I am also interested in showing the abstracting effect that can happen between the animate (humans) and inanimate (the objects that surround them) in these kinds of spaces.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?
I went it it knowing I didn't want to use interviews or a classic narrative arc. As a documentary filmmaker I’m interested in capturing life as it happens without an agenda to lead tothe unexpected. I envisioned long static shots that allowed the action to take place within the frame, allowing viewers to form their own decisions about how they make meaning from the scenes. I began shooting with no expectations for what would emerge. However, I ended up conducting interviews just for safety - in case I didn’t have footage that was “compelling” enough to stand on its own. But in the editing room I jettisoned the interviews immediately after watching the raw footage. I knew the observational footage we had gathered was much stronger than the interviews, in this particular case. The toughest part of the process for me was finding the right editing structure. The challenge was finding a story that flows and coheres without major plot points or a singular thesis I could easily define. I had several iterations of the story and workshopped it countless times. At the end, I kept putting things together like pieces of a puzzle until finally something just clicked.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
I’m happy with how positive the feedback is - it wasn’t always like that. People always responded well to the visualsof it the film but were unclear of where to find the meaning or meat of the story. Eventually that changed and people seem delighted or amused by it.
Some people feel I’m casting a critical view of China (or of humans in general) but I actually don’t feel that way. Just a straightforward documentation and look at what it is to work day in and day out in a place like Yiwu.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
To be honest I’m surprised how much people like the final version. Because as I said, for so long, there was a lot of doubt surrounded on what my “message” was, or how I could formulate more clearly what I was trying to say. But literally, I just kept editing so many versions - along with co editor Daniel Garcia, the help of my producers, friends, colleagues, and three (yes, three) residencies- that at one point, something just clicked and people were able to accepted it as a legitimate film. I’m still not sure just what that special thing is that brought it to the next level. It still feels like a mystery.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
More visibility of the film and more screening opportunities. Also though, as a way to encourage other filmmakers to take risks and go outside their comfort zones when it comes to what constitutes a documentary.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
sales agents/buyers/distributors/film festival people would be great!
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I want people to take the time and effort to watch without judging.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
How might we be connected to our “stuff” in ways we don’t think about? where do our belongings come from, and who are the people who handle them? how can you represent people from a different place than you? is it automatically cruel to watch someone when they are doing something that might look unflattering? what might be the value of that?
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
Jessica Kingdon: I’m working on a follow-up short doc about Chinese people vacationing in a small island in Micronesia. I’m interested in studying different forms of leisure (as opposed to this film, which was partly about chronicling of labor). I’m also producing a short narrative film in NYC and am submitting my recently completed short narrative to festivals.
Kira Simon-Kennedy: I’m producing the feature documentary Please Ask For It, prototyping res at NEW INC, and running China Residencies.
Dan Cooper: I’m working on research for M+, a contemporary arts Museum in Hong Kong, and doing research in journalism and architecture in New York and China focused on the environment and science.
Interview: January 2017
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A short documentary in the world's largest wholesale mall.
Director: Jessica Kingdon
Producer: Kira Simon-Kennedy; Daniel Cooper
About the writer, director and producer:
Jessica Kingdon is a Brooklyn-based filmmaker. She received her BA in Film Studies from Columbia University and her MA in Media Studies from The New School. Her short documentary Commodity City, shot in Yiwu, China was selected for the Points North Shortform Editing Residency and was selected for the Slamdance Film Festival and the International Film Festival Rotterdam. She is working on a counterpart documentary about the effects of Chinese tourists vacationing on an island in Micronesia. She also works as an independent producer, most recently co-producing the feature film "Old Stone" which premiered at the Berlinale 2016 and won the Best Canadian First Feature Film at TIFF 2016. She is a member of the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective.
Kira Simon-Kennedy is the co-founder & director of China Residencies, a nonprofit fostering cultural exchange between China and the world, and produces independent films and documentaries centred on music, social justice, and human rights. Kira holds a BA in East Asian Studies and Fine Arts from the University of Pennsylvania, and was a member of the inaugural class of Penn's School of Social Policy & Practice program in Social Impact Strategy and Arts & Culture. She is part of the New York - and internet-based collective Public Science, and is currently a member of NEW INC, the New Museum's incubator for art, design, and technology.
Daniel Cooper is an editor and researcher for text and film. He is currently a masters student in the school of architecture at Columbia University (GSAPP) where his research focuses on themes of territorial, environmental, and architectural history in colonial and scientific landscapes. Daniel is co-curator of Carriage Trade, a non-profit gallery in New York City producing exhibitions that reveal the larger social and political contexts of 20th century artists. He is the 2015/16 M+ Design Fellow at M+, contemporary arts museum in Hong Kong and teaches in the region in the summer.
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists):
Sales agents, buyers, distributors, festival directors, journalists
Made in association with:
DCTV, UnionDocs, Points North Institute, Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective
Where can I see it in the next month?
International Film Festival Rotterdam Jan 26 to Feb 1st: https://iffr.com/en/2017/films/Commodity-City