By Isabella Tianzi Cai
Police inspect illegal cooking oil, better known as 'drainage oil', seized during a crackdown in Beijing (Photo: AFP/GETTY)
Part of the documentary film series Visions of a New China at the Asia Society
Beijing Besieged by Waste
Dir. WANG Jiuliang
2011. China. 72 min. Digibeta. English subtitles.
October 29, 2011 – 3:00pm – 4:20pm
725 Park Avenue, New York, NY
$7 members; $9 students/seniors; $11 nonmembers (Series discount available. Click on series link for more information.)
Recycled cooking oil is known as “di gou you” or “gan shui you” in Mandarin Chinese and has been translated into “gutter oil”,”sewage oil”, or “drainage oil” in English. It first appeared in the Chinese vocabulary roughly a decade ago, when unlicensed production began to exist. This inferior form of cooking oil contains carcinogens such as aflatoxins; it is both unhygienic and unsafe for consumption.
China uses a massive amount of cooking oil every year. Although official statistics are unavailable on the website of the National Bureau of Statistics, 29.3 million tons of vegetable oil was forecast as the total amount of consumption for 2010 to 2011, an almost 9% increase from 26.85 million tons for 2009 to 2010, compared to 22.5 million tons for 2006 to 2007 (Agri Commodity Prices). In 2010, 15% of the total was estimated to go into waste (Xinhua). And out of that amount, 10 – 20% is said to be legally recycled and made into biofuel, while the remaining would likely end up in the hands of underground cooking oil recyclers, who would process it and then sell it back to Chinese restaurants (Telegraph). Because the net profit of such recycled cooking oil was nearly 200% of what it cost, it was an extremely lucrative business (Xinhua).
Concerned with the badly polluted city that he called home, Chinese freelance photojournalist and independent filmmaker Wang Jiuliang began an investigation of all of the landfill sites in Beijing in October 2008. His project lasted two years, during which time he also came into direct contact with some cooking oil recyclers on the outskirts of Beijing and captured them on camera. Responsibly speaking, Beijing’s pollution and its attendant problems were indeed bigger and deeper than they seemed. Now his documentary Beijing Besieged by Waste (2010) on the investigation has been completed. It was screened for the Foreign Correspondents Club in China on October 13, 2011 at the Embassy of Poland in Beijing. It was on the China Next (CNEX) Campus Tour in Canada last month. It screened once at Beijing’s art house movie theater, Broadway Cinematheque MOMA (BC MOMA). And as of right now, it is playing at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival (Oct 13-22).
Below are some of my thoughts on the film and information that I have gathered about it.