Question 1: The first question is, obviously there has been this evolution during the process of filmmaking. You’re getting more involved and with the kids, and more interaction with the kids. How did it feel like emotionally towards the end of the movie? And the second question is, the crew is actually surprisingly big. With a crew of that size and the sponsorship, did it have the chance to be shown in China, at home? How did it work with censorship? Your statement is a lot more aggressive than the movie itself.
The first question, also, I want to touch on what one of the speaker’s mentioned just now, how I came to choose this particular family to film. As you imagined, they didn’t want us to be there to film them. None of the families wanted us to be there. I don’t want to give you the details, but we were actually beaten three times, physically. Because being there was detrimental to their interests. Honestly we didn’t have any secrets to getting the material or being filmed. One thing I can say is perseverance. We stayed one month, three month, three years – we just stayed. I got this question often about the little girl is quite special and how I was able to find her. My response was that there were so many factories and their stories were very much the same. So it really didn’t matter which particular family I chose to film. So back to your question about how I was able to get along with them so well, I didn’t really have any other secret either. I was just there, to be there with them. When we first got there, almost everyone there thought we were child kidnappers. Some others thought that we were drug dealers. It was quite difficult to get close to the adults, but it was relatively easier to approach the kids because of their natural curiosity. There was a female member on the team and she discovered the girl, Yijie, on the street. She learned that Yijie was nine years old but was never able to go to school. My thought was that, since we are here to film, we could help her receive her education. I didn’t expect that she would turn out to be our main character. I think it’s quite simple: when you spend enough time together, when you make them realize you’re not there to harm them, they will trust you and open up to you. This girl was the person who took us to her family and let us visit the factory. I told the owner of the factory that I’m not a journalist. I showed him my ID card and so he made a note of my name and my address, to make him to believe I was not there to harm him, and that was important. I went through a process of being strangers to each other to becoming closer to eventually becoming friends or family. My wife and my children also eventually came with me and joined us at the factory. My children played with the kids. So I think the key point here is mutual respect.
The film was banned two months before I came here, banned in China. So if you search for the film on the internet in China you won’t be able to find anything. Any records of my interviews and media are all gone. It’s not a pleasant outcome, of course. My mood was changed because of your question.
Question 2: My first question is, what is the result of the characters of the film. My second question is, they should be making more money for what they are doing. Where is all the money going?
This question pleases me. I acknowledge that our power is limited as filmmakers and the film also has limited power. Many questions may have to be left unresolved and there are people who we won’t be able to help at all. But for those who I come in contact with, I will try to help. It was our intention to help the girl through making this film, and at that point we weren’t even sure if the film would be completed or even be a success or not. In August 2014, the little girl was able to go to school and she is in third grade now. Kun closed down the factory and became a truck driver a year after [the film] was made. You know, Kun was actually quite stubborn when it came to the industry and the profit he was making. But I do believe my presence there had an effect on him, which probably contributed to his decision to close the factory. As for who profited from this industry, I can say directly that it is the Chinese government. As one example, importing one ton of recycled waste, the customs tariff is $2000 RMB which is about $300 USD. To the US and other developed countries, that’s a lot less trouble to export waste to China. One ton of unsorted waste was sold to China for about $9. Even the plastic material that was already sorted to a finer degree was only $100 per ton.
Question 3: How did the coworker end up finding Kun? He’s from Sichuan and they were in Chengdu, so I was wondering how that came to be. I was also interested in how fractured the market is. For something like rubber production, I would expect it to be more consolidated. If someone is able to make more for less then they make more or less rubber, and it funnels down to fewer and fewer. So when you said 5000, that was just really shocking to me.
Kun is local to the place where the film is shot. This kind of job is something that even a lot of people who are local were not willing to do. Most of the workers engaged in this kind of work were from the Sichuan Province where he is from. Almost everyone who does this is from the Sichuan Province, so this is why they are together. For your second question, in fact, plastic recycling is very complicated. There could be thousands of different types of plastic. The computer keyboard and the back of the seat are two different types of plastic, as you can imagine. Sorting is the very first step before you can do any recycling. It’s not something that huge machines are very good at. Human labor is better. The combination of human labor with relatively small scale, simple machinery seems to be the lowest cost. And believe me, this is how most of the plastic waste gets recycled in the world. There are a number of ways to do it but it costs more. Like in Germany and Japan and even the US, there are these kind of factories but they cost a lot more. If you want that, then you’re going to have to pay more as an average citizen for your recycling. This is why the factories in China have to deal with you, personally. Thanks for the question.
Question 4: I want Director Wang to know that men in the US don’t like going to doctors either, just like the factory owner. My question is, why did he leave the farm? What’s wrong with farming that everyone wants to go to the city? The same thing in Latin America is happening.
It’s also common in China. Since the reforming of housing in China in the 1990s, China has gradually moved from an agrarian society to an industrial society. I actually have footage for this in which Kun said to me repeatedly ‘I don’t want to be a farmer’. As you recall, in the film in the birthgiving scene, you could see cornfields and that actually belongs to Kun’s mother. But Kun was very contemptuous of his mother for being a farmer. It’s very typical of how Chinese young people view farming. It’s actually a horrifying idea of the young in China, that is ‘what I want to do is to make money’ and making money is a priority. I don’t want to go too much into it because it’s very complicated.
Question 5: What did Yijie say about her father? The scene where she says something about her dad and it cuts out.
She believes that her dad will take her home. But I want to talk about something here: in January my film was banned in China, and in February the Chinese government started a project called ‘Blue Sky Project’ which ran all the way through December, so it lasted about a year. According to the government, the customs has confiscated foreign trash with the value of $10 million. They said ‘we resolutely stop the foreign trash from entering China’. Although they didn’t say a word about my film or my work, I know for sure this is in a way a response to my film. This is why I believe in filmmaking. I believe in the power of filmmaking and I will continue to do that.
Question 6: Watching the conditions of the workers really felt like something out of a Charles Dickens novel. Do you see any improvement coming in worker’s rights or children’s labor laws in China anytime soon?
There has been some progress but it’s still far, we still have a long way to go because the government does not allow private organizations to involved in children’s rights protection. There’s not enough progress. It may not too bad for children because they have their parents to take care of them.