In 1994, the oil-rich city of Karamay in Northwest China was the site of a horrible fire that killed nearly 300 schoolchildren. The students were performing for state officials and were told to stand by while the officials exited first. After the fire, the story was heavily censored in the Chinese state media. To this day, the families of Karamay have not been allowed to publicly mourn their children.
In Karamay, filmmaker Xu Xin helps a community break the silence nearly two decades after their tragedy. The film is structured around a series of first-person accounts from families, teachers and survivors, interspersed with rare archival footage. Each narrative represents a complete and self-contained story in which the subjects recount their reaction to the carnage and how it colored their view of nation, society, education, law, party institutions and human nature. The result is “a landmark in journalistic diligence and a dedicated act of commemoration and healing” (Michael Fox, SF Weekly). “Any future book on documentary film history will have to mark a place of honor for Xu Xin’s Karamay” (Robert Koehler, Variety).
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