In the online journal Senses of Cinema, Luke Robinson reviews the documentary Meishi Street (directed by Ou Ning) which will screen this weekend at the Melbourne International Film Festival, as part of “Street Level Visions“, a series of contemporary Chinese independent documentaries.
Meishi Street shows ordinary Beijing citizens taking a stand against the planned destruction of their homes for the 2008 Olympics. An excerpt from Robinson’s review:
An independent commission funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation, Meishi Streetis a collaborative work overseen by Ou, but produced by a team of still photographers, sound designers and cinematographers. The documentary â€šÃ„Ã¬ itself only one part of the overall project, which also incorporates a website and a number of print publications â€šÃ„Ã¬ tracks the bulldozing of the neighbourhood through the eyes of Zhang Jinli, a local resident and restaurant owner. Zhang is what is known as a â€šÃ„Ãºstuck-nail tenantâ€šÃ„Ã¹ (dingzihu): an epithet for those inhabitants of condemned neighbourhoods who, either for sentimental reasons or in an attempt to maximise the financial compensation paid for relocation, refuse to leave their homes until the last possible moment. When the film starts, Zhang’s property is still standing. By the end, as it is finally pulled down â€šÃ„Ã¬ and having followed him through his various attempts at publicising his plight: the letters he writes to the relevant government bureaux contesting the conduct of the relocation process; his increasingly forlorn forays around the rapidly dwindling neighbourhood â€šÃ„Ã¬ we have come to sense how the restructuring of city space might feel â€šÃ„Ãºfrom the bottom upâ€šÃ„Ã¹.Meishi Street thus presents a possible counter-perspective to the â€šÃ„ÃºBird’s Nestâ€šÃ„Ã¹ view of Beijing’s contemporary Haussmannisation, which positions urban regeneration as a necessary and wholly positive procedure easing the capital’s ascension to global city status. Instead, the film captures the experience of people at best marginalised by, at worst excluded from, this process: those left behind by modernity, or at least stranded in its wake, desperately struggling to stay afloat.