People's Park (2012)
A mesmerizing, one-of-a-kind window into modern China, PEOPLE'S PARK is an exhilarating single shot documentary that immerses viewers in an unbroken journey through a famous urban park in Chengdu, Sichuan Province. PEOPLE'S PARK was produced at Harvard's groundbreaking Sensory Ethnography Lab, which has been responsible for some of the most critically-acclaimed, envelope-pushing documentaries of recent years (including SWEETGRASS, LEVIATHAN, and the upcoming MANAKAMANA.) The film explores the dozens of moods, rhythms, and pockets of performance coexisting in tight proximity within the park's prismatic social space, capturing waltzing couples, mighty sycamores, karaoke singers, and buzzing cicadas. A sensory meditation on cinematic time and space, PEOPLE'S PARK offers a fresh gaze at public interaction, leisure and self-expression in today's China.
- A walk through the park like no other, this brilliantly joyous conceptual documentary takes the vivid reality of an urban park: Peoples Park in Chengdu, Sichuan, and, with a pure kind of cinema magic, makes it more real than real. Directors Libbie Cohn and J.P. Sniadecki use an utterly unique and perfectly apposite method of filming: they shoot their tour of the park in one continuous 75-minute long tracking shot. No cuts, no edits: the film starts, it rolls, it stops. Sounds simple, but in the completely uncontrolled context of a crowded Chinese public space, their work required meticulous preparation and rigorous execution to achieve what looks like a spontaneous result. Their camera, as it pans side to side and glides relentlessly forward, catches hundreds of Chinese urbanites out for fun, relaxation, socializing and freedom: eating, strolling, singing, practicing calligraphy, dancing (to various, surprising beats) and watching each other. And being watched (by us) in a way that, though it may start out with what feels like unadorned observation, slowly gathers a kind of ecstatic, trance-like groove, building to a rapturous climax, as people, movement, music, image and sound dance together: this is as close to pure pleasure as cinema can provide.
The soundscape is rich, complex and carefully manufactured, as is the preternaturally smooth movement of the camera, again the result of painstaking preparation and post-production. The result is something extraordinary: a documentary re-creation of reality, or rather a production of something super-real, that activates our sympathetic gaze and ecstatic participation.
- Shelly Kracier, Vancouver International Film Festival