Review by Richard Toews.
In his first feature documentary, Yu Guangyi returns to his home in Heilongjiang (the former Manchuria, now Northeast China), where he joins a gang of timber cutters in the Black Bear Valley, some 1,600 meters above sea level. Guangyi should not be judged for his lack of training as a filmmaker, which is quickly evident; instead, Guangyi should be praised for presenting an unsanitized story that is gripping, bringing viewers face to face with the power of film to touch lives.
In his simple yet effective style, Guangyi avoids the impulse to give us a cliché ridden didactic account. Guangyi lets the community of men tell their story, which is at best reminiscent of a Dickensian world. Life lived in this community is hostile. And yet the men find enough in their harsh lives to banter as they eat and sleep around a primitive brick oven.
The finesse of the professional documentarain is markedly absent as Guangyi, who at no time pulls his punches. The images are visceral. Logging in the Black Bear Valley is far from modern - labour is intensive, transportation of logs by horse is primitive, and life seems to be uncertain and cheap. Six of the eight horses in the camp are worked to death. One cannot help but wonder at the fragility of life for these workers; at the end of this particular season, logging in the Black Bear Valley had come to an end, which marked the beginning of disruption of the loggers livelihood.
Yu Guangyi | China | 2007 | 90min
Sun. Sept. 30 | 9:30pm | VanCity Theatre
Mon. Oct. 1 | 3:45pm | VanCity Theatre