A personal and a national story
Midi Z follows his brother, Zhao De-chin, recording his everyday routine as he returns to the City of Jade, in Kachin state, in Myanmar. At the same time, he tries to unveil his brother’s past, who abandoned the family when he was 16 years old (and Midi Z, five) to come to this “promised land.”
The area is tormented by civil war as the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) fights the government’s forces. The conflict has forced large corporations that were mining there to abandon the place, and that has given the opportunity to unlicensed individuals to take over. However, raids by both fighting parties are regular, and occasionally result in confiscating equipment and imprisonment for the workers. Add to that the fact that they mostly dig with basic tools, like hoes and hammers, most of them eventually succumb to drug addiction, and that many come down with malaria, and you have a truly onerous setting. Burmese, though, keep coming in the place, as they dream of riches that will change their lives.
At the same time, De-chin reveals part of his story in the place, which led him to drug addiction and subsequently, to prison, but did not deter him from coming back. Some of his revelations are truly shocking
Filming in true guerilla style
The film was shot with a moderate budget, and the circumstances became even worse when the equipment was confiscated. Midi Z gave GoPro cameras to the miners working for his brother, to document their everyday lives in the area. This became a turning point for the documentary, as it recorded intimate moments of the workers, like the one where one of them is talking to his wife on the phone about sending money for his son’s computer lessons. At the same time, the small cameras helped the two alienated brothers to come closer.
The result is that the movement of the camera is occasionally dizzying, but the outcome is a triumph of beauty and realism
Beauty in a desolate land
Life in the City of Jade is harsh for everyone. However, the setting presents a number of images of extreme beauty, where brown and yellow dominate the scenery, and a lake created by the digging stands as the sole spot of calmness in an area swarmed with people working.
The scenes where a bunch of workers try to avoid arrest by climbing down a quarry and crossing the lake with a makeshift raft, and the ones where a quarry collapses are the ones that stand apart.
A sense of melancholy and disillusionment
Through De-chin’s psychological status, Midi Z’s narration, and Lim Giongs’s music, a sense of melancholy permeates the documentary. This sense becomes even more intense as workers start smoking drugs and popping pills, and even Midi Z comes down with malaria.
In that fashion though, Midi Z portrays the harsh conditions still dominating the country, despite the international press perspective of a country that moves towards freedom and the free market. If this is actually the case, City Of Jade has not even heard about it.
A sole flaw
The one flaw I found in the documentary, is that it lags a bit, particularly during the end, with some footage that could be missing. The flaw, however is minor, and does not have any impact in the general sense the production leaves at the end.
“City of Jade” is a great documentary, as it manages to combine artfully the depiction of a very serious topic with Midi Z’s personal issues, and to coat them with beauty.
“City of Jade” is part of the Five Flavours Film Festival that is on in Warsaw (November 16 – 23) and Wroclaw (November 18-24).