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March 6 - 7, 2015

Ghost Towns and Steel Rails: J.P. Sniadecki in China

For several years now, filmmaker J.P. Sniadecki (b. 1979) has been documenting everyday life in the People’s Republic of China as it undergoes a string of rapid transformations. Working often in collaboration with others, the prolific Sniadecki has already amassed a remarkably diverse but consistently fascinating body of work. The HFA has been presenting his work since he was a doctoral student in Harvard’s Social Anthropology department and a part of the Sensory Ethnography Lab. We are pleased to welcome him back to present his two latest films.

The diversity of Sniadecki’s work reflects not only the reality of contemporary China but also the filmmaker’s ongoing research into the varieties of nonfiction filmmaking. Coming in the wake of the observational Demolition and the virtuosic one-shot People’s Park comes The Iron Ministry, an immersion into the sensory worlds-within-worlds aboard China’s trains, and Yumen, a dispersive and discursive look at a ghost town that is both dead and alive. – David Pendleton

Presented in conjunction with the Film Study Center, Harvard, with support from the Provostial Fund for the Arts and Humanities.

$12 Special Event Tickets
J.P. Sniadecki in person

Friday March 6 at 7pm

The Iron Ministry

Directed by J.P. Sniadecki
US/China 2014, DCP, color, 82 min. Mandarin with English subtitles

China’s railway system is immense, one of the world’s largest. As Sniadecki’s latest film makes clear, it is both a microcosm of the People’s Republic and a world unto itself. Filmmakers have recognized the cinematic potential of train travel since the beginnings of cinema; here, Sniadecki gives himself a structuring principle by confining his camera to the interior of various carriages, rarely even looking out the window. Drawing footage from scores of train journeys filmed over three years, The Iron Ministry begins as a disorienting montage of sounds and sights that encourages us to witness the travelers we meet with fresh eyes and ears. While eventually a sense of China’s class divisions emerges, what resonates most strongly out of the multitude of encounters between traveler and camera is a warm sense of what Sniadecki has called a “cramped and common humanity.”

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$12 Special Event Tickets
J.P. Sniadecki in person

Saturday March 7 at 7pm


Directed by Huang Xiang, Xu Ruotao, J.P. Sniadecki
China/US 2013, digital video, color, 65 min. Mandarin with English subtitles

Yumen is a boomtown in northwestern China abandoned by the authorities once oil production there dried up. This experimental, decentered portrait of the present-day life of a city haunted by the past is the result of a collaboration bringing together Sniadecki and artists-turned-independent filmmakers Xu Ruotao and Huang Xiang. “Yumen is a haunting, fragmented tale of hungry souls, restless youth, a wandering artist and a lonely woman, all searching for human connection and a collective past among the town's crumbling landscape. Part ‘ruin porn’, part ghost story, and shot entirely on 16mm, the film brings together narrative gesture, performance art, and socialist realism into a wounded and radiant musical that not only plays with convention and defies genre, but also pays homage to a disappearing life-world and a fading medium.”—J.P. Sniadecki

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Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700