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Electric Shadows

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DIRECTED BY HERVE COHEN AND RENAUD COHEN
DISTRIBUTED BY
FIRST RUN/ICARUS FILMS
153 WAVERLY PLACE
NEW YORK, NY 10014
1993. 26 minutes. Color

Scholars of contemporary China are only now beginning to explore the role of the media in social, cultural, and political change in post-Mao China. This is the theme of the film Electric Shadows, set in the rural heartland of Sichuan province. Taking its title from the Chinese term for cinema, dianying, this well-crafted documentary follows a team of three itinerant film projectionists as they travel by bicycle and foot from village to village. They carry with them a makeshift screen, a film and a slide projector, and the films selected by the cinema bureau of Xiuwen Commune, the educational The Growing of Oranges, and the popular martial arts classic The Revenge of Mount Tai Shan. We learn little of the history of this commune, for the focus is on the itinerant projectionists them themselves. Earlier in the film—in one of the film’s rare didactic moments—they pass a household where a group of people have gathered to watch television. We are asked to look at the television through the eyes of the projectionists, as though the television itself was a force against which they worked. The television set is quickly left behind, and the viewer is drawn into the drama of a profession now seemingly threatened by the arrival of this and other forms of popular cultural entertainment.