Documenting Coffee

Would we have coffee with Ken Burns?

Cammy:  Absolutely.  I love this man’s work.  One of my earliest memories is of watching his documentary on the Shakers.  From his use of still photographs, to his careful incorporation of music, he has a style that sucks me in like no other documentarian I’ve ever watched–and I’ve watched a crap-ton of documentaries.  For the pure awesomeness he’s shared with us through The Civil War, Thomas Jefferson, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, I owe this man whatever beverage he likes.  I’d love to know what other person/era/event he has in his targets for the future (I know there are plans out to at least 2018–I’m particularly looking forward to the planned Country Music).  Are there any subjects/people that he has marked as just too difficult to cover properly?  And while I definitely love that he covers American history, is there anything outside the US that he’s ever considered focusing on?  How does he narrow the material down for his documentaries?  I’m more willing than normal to pepper this man with questions.  Kristy might need to restrain me.

Kristy: Sure. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve seen very little of his work. I saw some of The Civil War, but remember very little of it. But even if I don’t watch as many of them as I feel I should, I find documentary films very interesting. I’m interested to know if there’s anything he found while working on any of his documentaries that changed his mind/feelings about anything. I’m interested to know what got left out of them, and why. And I’d even be interested to know how he wound up going into documentary film in the first place.

Movie Review: Please Vote For Me

Title:  Please Vote For Me (2007)

Director:  Weijun Chen

I was all set to plug a Bollywood movie until I turned on a short (58 minute) documentary while I fixed supper.  Please Vote for Me follows a class of elementary school children in China as they experiment with a democratic election for the coveted position of Class Monitor.

It was a completely appropriate choice given that it’s election season around here right now.  The difference is, I found this election far more compelling.

This is a not an overly-slick, Hollywood-ized documentary.  A lot of it is 8 year old kids being 8 year old kids.  Yelling, pouting, fighting, arguing…it’s as real as it gets (and one of these boys is totally going to regret this when he’s a teenager and it gets shown around school with him all up in his undies all the time).   It’s only when you stop to realize that this is China that it gets truly amazing.

Watching the three kids at the center of the election jump into the typical games of politics (back-room negotiations, pushy behavior, gifts to gain favor, empty promises, mud-slinging and general sabotage) you start to wonder if what you’re seeing is the rise of a new way of thinking in China, or if competitive election behavior is just rooted in human DNA.  And it’s not just the kids, the push-to-achieve Chinese parenting style is apparently way more powerful than any loyalty to communist equality as all the parents push their little darlings to practice for each round of the election cycle–some pulling out more stops than others.

It was interesting to watch the way these kids approached the process, and though less heavily featured, it was even more amazing to see the teacher walk them through it.  About the last thing I ever expected was to see a Chinese teacher explaining democracy, and emphasizing the importance of each kid’s vote as their way to control their own destiny.  It would be a throw-away speech for a teacher here, but in a country where the internet is fire-walled by your government and there’s only one party, it becomes a heavy-hitter.

There’s a plain old slice-of-life attraction to it as well.  You follow these kids home and get a little peek at the life of the new “middle class” Chinese family.  And the classroom shots were an eye-opener.  I was surprised that you didn’t see the kids doing all that much school work.  And the way they were wandering around at lunch, in and out of the halls,  doing as they pleased?  That’s not what I expected, especially since the public school classroom where I volunteered in Dallas was a WAY more uniformed, regimented, all-in-a-line kind of place where there was no way a kid set so much as a toe in the hall without being in classroom line, or escorted by a teacher.

Sadly, these kiddos didn’t get much better choices for their leader than you find in most Western elections, so there’s a depressing universality going on here.

It’s an interesting look at both election behavior and at what China is becoming.  The film is not life-changer, but it does inspire a moderate amount of thought.

I give it 3 and a half jars of peanut-butter.