Sunday, October 11, 2015

It's a Wonderful Chinese Life

A man who voluntarily patrols a bridge in China on weekends in order to try and prevent people from committing suicide is naturally going to be compelling subject matter. The story of Chen Si has been covered over the years by This American Life, GQ magazine and the New York Times.

It was the 2004 Times article by Jim Yardley that set New York filmmakers Jordan Horowitz and Frank Ferendo on a path to Angel of Nanjing, a feature documentary that has been racking up the prizes at film festivals this year. The pair shot without official permission in China beginning in 2010 and debuted the film at the 2015 Phoenix Film Festival.

Angel of Nanjing screened most recently at the just-completed Chagrin Documentary Film Festival in Ohio and is set for a pair of showings Thursday October 15th and Saturday October 17th at the Tallgrass Film Festival in Wichita, Kansas. As the filmmakers explained to a writer for the Rhode Island International Film Festival, where the documentary was also presented, they at one point during the making of the film were thrust into the heart of Si's Yangtze River Bridge civic mission:

Horowitz: One day after Chen had already left the bridge we stumbled on to a man who was giving away his ATM password on the phone and was about to jump, and it was on us to save him. That really made me think about the personal responsibility we all share towards one another as human beings, which is what I think is the thing Chen hopes will be our biggest takeaway from the film. I think if people understand and act on that it will allow his work to continue on long after he’s no longer able to.

Despite only limited Chinese and the fact that Si does not speak English, Horotwitz and Ferendo feel they were able to form something of a bond with their subject and capture his surprisingly robust sense of humor, which has remained intact despite the very heavy and serious stakes of his volunteer patrol activities.

[Angel of Nanjing]

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