September 21st, 2010 — 07:25 am
I stopped blogging as I was wrapping up my stay in China in 2009 because I was tired all the time. Writing is hard work, but so is filming– especially in the heat and humidity of summer in Shanghai. I kept shooting up until a few days before I left, July 31, 2009.
There were situations and people that Zhen and I wanted to capture that we weren’t able to– either because of time, access, or other unforeseen difficulties. But in the end I had to let go of all these things and surrender to the experiences unfolding in front of me. I was on a journey in China to discover answers to my questions about the nature of globalization and consumption. I was also there to meet the people who make the things we take for granted every day, and to capture some aspect of who they are and how they see their lives in the middle of this flow of global capital. What I didn’t expect when I began was that I would meet a cook who feeds the factory workers at a clothing factory in Shanghai; that this clothing factory would be owned and run by women; and that the young factory workers I met would express such agency and determination in the unfolding of their lives.
Every day I think of all the people in Shanghai, Changzhou, and Suzhou — and Bennettsville, Aiken and Cameron– who crossed this film’s path during its making, and who so generously offered me their time and shared their experiences. Most days, it’s this is the only thing that keeps me going! I will finish this film — and hopefully sooner rather than later. My timeline for completion is November 2011. 加油! Jia You!
AND, I will also blog more from this day onward. I started cutting material in January of 2010 and am still trying to whittle down my 2 gigs of footage into something more manageable for an editor, who I hope to hire this winter, pending funding. I’m starting to fundraise again and will soon have 501c3 status with a media organization so that individuals can make tax deductible donations. If you’re reading this and interested in keeping up with the film’s progress, I hope you will bookmark this blog or the film’s website– www.cottonroadmovie.com– or consider joining the Facebook fan page, Cotton Road Movie.
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May 5th, 2009 — 08:39 pm
The main reason for this post is to let anyone know who is bothering to read this blog that the first 300 gigs of our film are on their way to Columbia, SC to be backed up. It’s nice to take a break from tracking cotton to tracking the film as it makes its way to the other side of the world.
Li Zhen and I have been working pretty hard for the past two weeks. We’ve had several really great shoots that I have yet to blog about, and we are continuing to work on translations from Chinese to English. We’re both worried about a number of things, too: that this film is too big; that it’s trying to do too much; and that there are too many characters. We are also worried about our struggle to document the complexities of the global marketplace. People are very reluctant to speak about things in this business that are considered difficult– such as the struggle to stay in business while continuing to meet production demands. Production costs continue to go up, while prices offered by companies for the production of goods continues to fall. Nobody is really willing to discuss this. I want to give an accurate picture of the global marketplace and I also want people to feel good about the way they are represented. It’s an ongoing challenge.
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May 5th, 2009 — 08:15 pm
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April 24th, 2009 — 01:36 pm
Blogging has fallen by the wayside for a while. There were three successful shoots not documented here– one with Emma Zhang, a young woman who used to buy clothes at Qi Pu Lu to stock her own online boutique, and another at Shen You to spend time with workers there, and another return visit to Yuan Tian. Li Zhen and I then both took a break; she traveled to the U.S. and I traveled to Yunnan to see more of China. We’ll be back in production together by early next week, I hope. We’re anticipating a shoot any day now with Mr. Chen at Wai Gao Qiao. A shipment of cotton is arriving (or has already arrived) from the United States to his warehouse. We’re hoping to film as much of the process as possible at the port: unloading, inspection, transfer to warehouse and then hopefully to buyer. Another good contact came a few days ago when I met someone who is involved in the export of clothing products back to the United States to a large, very well known retailer. He works primarily with a factory in Suzhou to source the clothes. We are waiting to see if we will get permission to film at this factory. Even if not, our new contact will enable us to film the tail end of the export process. Since I will be here in Shanghai for three more months, I’m hopeful I can document the export of clothing that I will easily be able to see in stores in South Carolina.
While waiting for Li Zhen to return from her travels, I’ve started parsing through footage and am thinking about the structure of the documentary. It’s shot very out of order, in terms of the production process, but this fits the sense I have of living in Shanghai — that of a dense, constantly moving environment. At any moment there is cotton arriving, production taking place, shipments coming and going. It’s all a continuous flow that I have been dropped in the middle of, trying to make sense of it all.
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March 26th, 2009 — 04:46 pm
On Monday this week we had a successful trip to Changzhou, a city of about 2 million in Jiangsu Province that is located about a 2.5 hour drive from Shanghai. Changzhou is a booming textile town, but also known for other types of manufacturing. In Changzhou we met with our contact, Mrs. Ding, a woman who has her own company as a buyer of textile products. Mrs. Ding is a middle person; she places orders with factories for the production of textiles and clothing. She introduced us to Mrs. Zhang, the niece of the owner of Shen You yarn and weaving factory, a small and efficient factory that employs about 10o people to manufacture textiles.
Our time at Shen You was fantastic. We had a tour and I shot a little bit of video; we have been given the opportunity to return to Shen You for more in-depth filming, which I greatly look forward to. Mrs. Zhang and Mrs. Ding led us through the factory, starting from the point where the yarn is spun off giant spindles and tied onto a large barrel, the first step in setting the design of the fabric. Next, the yarn is threaded onto “needles” [we don't yet have the technical terms] that will ultimately form the fabric when they are connected to the weaving machine. This part has to be done by hand; there is no other way. We entered a room where there were about 4 stations set up to prepare the patterns. Young women sit across from each other and hand thread back and forth until they have completed the pattern. This work seems to require quite a bit of concentration to complete, and the room was rather quiet. Next, the machines are loaded with these threads and the fabric is woven. Standing in the weaving room, I couldn’t help but think about the textile factories that used to be scattered all over the Carolinas. The scene was so familiar to me given the hundreds of images I’ve seen of textile mills in the South.
When the fabric is finished, it is taken to a large room with tables, spread out, and examined for flaws. Young women are unfolding fabric and examining it inch by inch for inconsistencies and making repairs by hand if they find any problems. The young women here were laughing and talking to one another. They told me that they would have dressed up if they knew an American director was coming to film them! I was rather taken by these young women, many of whom are probably migrant workers; they are incredibly fresh, open and witty. I am really looking forward to returning to Shen You for more filming, hopefully next week.
I hope, too, that we’ll be able to follow Mrs. Ding as she places orders for textiles. We stopped off at a factory with her on our way to Shen You and waited outside the factory gates. On either side of the gate were rows of small shops and pedi cabs and trucks were driving up and down the small street piled high with textiles. A large truck rambled by filled to the top with bolts of denim, and then a small pedi cab crept past. Mrs. Ding explained that when factories have a very big order and not a lot of time to fill it, they will hand off part of the order to very small, family owned textile companies that are run out of peoples’ homes. We hope we’ll be able to film in one of these small factories, too.
Comment » | cotton road movie, Jiangsu Province, textile industry, weaving
March 26th, 2009 — 03:02 pm
On March 17 Li Zhen and I spent time walking around the Jing’an neighborhood with our cameras to capture life on the streets. We ended up meeting quite a few people, which lead me to realize that I should capture the economic slow down by talking to ordinary working people in my neighborhood– even if they have nothing at all to do with the cotton industry. In fact, a common problem for us has been that textile companies are reluctant to speak about economic issues. A few companies denied shooting because they do not want the public to know they are struggling. A company turned us down last week because they are worried their American buyers might find out they aren’t doing well and then quote an even lower price that they would then have to find a way to meet. Hearing this made me wonder about the stress foreign companies place on Chinese factories to produce more and more at cheaper and cheaper prices. At what point does a Chinese factory absolutely have to turn down the business because the price doesn’t cover their costs? And at what point do the American buyers start to look elsewhere– to India, or to Pakistan, where they can place the same order for less money? Is it greed that drives the foreign buyer to pay less? Is it that foreign companies must always have a large profit, no matter what, even at the expense of others? And, actually, who makes the most profit? Is it the American buyer, the middle person who sells to the company, or is it ultimately the company who sells the goods to American consumers?
This day of filming helped me to understand that I should expand the economic narrative to include people from all walks of life, especially because I don’t want to jeopardize the companies who are so generously opening their doors to us. And even more so, I want to do more of this kind of shooting because it’s interesting. On this day we were able to capture quite a number of topics integral to the film:
The pace of change in Shanghai: a man rode by on his bike and asked the construction worker standing nearby, “Where is Changde Lu?” The worker pointed to the rubble before him: ”Here is Changde Lu!” What must it be like to be lost in a city where you have lived your entire life? The construction workers at this intersection didn’t really know what they were building, it seemed. They were digging and clearing rubble– some said it was a road, and others said it was a new subway line. Most said: the construction is for the Expo. The theme of the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai is “Better City, Better Life.” While we were at this intersection, another man rode by on his bike and stopped to talk to us. He makes noodles for a living and said that his shop’s business has slowed considerably.
We also met a cobbler who has been fixing shoes for more than 30 years on the streets in Jing’an. He does not have a permit for a permanent store, so he has to work wherever he can. He stays in a location as long as possible until the police drive him away. We met a woman in the lane where the cobbler was working who is desperate for a new house. The Shanghai government has been promising her for some time that they will demolish her old neighborhood and move her into a new high rise like the one across the street that is called Park Avenue. She is still waiting. She invited us into her home and showed us her living conditions– a house probably 400 square feet or smaller, with a narrow ladder leading upstairs to a small room where she and her husband have been living for 60 years. She wants change desperately. She wants her old neighborhood to be torn down so that she can have a better place to live.
We also met a cotton farmer, a man who followed his uncle to Shanghai to find work until it is time to return to his province to plant this year’s cotton crop. He told us that he would like to see American farmers planting cotton. He plants by hand, and he also hires a lot of people to help bring in the crop. Right now, though, he has some time to work and play in Shanghai. His uncle is the gate keeper for a building where we filmed laundry hanging in the sun. Two women waved at us from the building and came down to talk. They told us that it’s an important Shanghai custom to hang laundry outside. The sun should shine on laundry in order to sanitize it. We asked them if they knew about the ban on the display of laundry for the Expo. They hadn’t heard of it, but they were hanging laundry behind their building, not in the front where it might be considered unsightly.
We also spoke to a young couple who have been running a business that provides trimmings for doors and windows. They said they are just breaking even and if their business does not pick up soon, they may have to return to their home province, even though they have been in Shanghai for more than 10 years. I am not sure how all these stories interface together, but it was a great day of filming. It was comfortable and easier than I thought it was going to be. People were curious about what we were doing, and only a few people refused to be on camera, like the baozi vendor where we had a snack. Most everyone wanted to share their experiences and opinions.
Comment » | cotton road movie, economy, Jing'an neighborhood, laundry
March 17th, 2009 — 08:28 pm
Yesterday I filmed again at Yuan Tian Clothing Factory with a few of the workers, but the majority of my time was spent watching the loading of a truck with months worth of cotton scraps from the factory. Everything has value in the production chain at Yuan Tian; nothing is wasted. Mrs. Jiang and her managers spent the better part of the afternoon overseeing the weighing of bags of cloth scraps as they were loaded. The workers doing the loading were hired by another factory to haul the scraps. They weren’t entirely sure what the scraps were going to be used for, but Mrs. Jiang noted that some would be used to make toys, some would be shredded and used as insulation in electronic instruments like calculators. The polyester fibers would be melted down, and perhaps used to make plastic for electronic parts.
Loading was incredibly dusty work. The workers kept throwing bag after bag into the truck and insisting that everything would fit. Mrs. Jiang and her staff suggested they come back the next day and do two loads, but the workers disagreed. They finally finished around 5 pm, strapped down the towering load, and drove off. Elizabeth Peng, my translator for the day, and I got into a cab about 5 minutes later to head home. As our cab rounded the block we saw the truck stopped on the side of the road by a police officer who was writing the men a citation for the precariousness height of their cargo.
Comment » | clothing, cotton road movie, textile industry
March 16th, 2009 — 11:11 am
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