It is. If some of you vividly recall The Inconvenient Truth, the famous documentary on climate destabilization by Al Gore nearly ten years ago, Chinese journalist Chai Jing’s new documentary “Under The Dome” has undoubtedly taken the baton. Hitting close to 300 million views over a week in early March 2015, the documentary claims to be the only topic on China’s social media platforms for three days straight. The film, however, was taken down by the authority after that week. I am not a movie/documentary critique for sure! And as apparently seen, I don’t write any, but thus only means that I will write upon good reason to do so.
Over 2 hours long, the film is a comprehensive look at pollution in China, air pollution particularly, and one of the high-profile investigation the public has seen. To me, it is more than a typical TED talk like what Al Gore did with graphs and images, but Chai Jing’s journalist background and her personality have indeed complimented the film and fed the audience with sentiments and anxieties as she unfolded many investigations and life footages. Many who are deemed to be the eye opener to all of the Chinese in China, that this is happening in their backyard. Here are five reasons I found that justify my view why this is the next “Inconvenient Truth” (for China?):
1) Chai Jing’s role as a CCTV Journalist and Mother
It’s the charisma in her that elevated the documentary to a whole new level I would say. If you watched Al Gore presenting, you sense a politician speaking at a very affirmative and monotone pace, but Chai Jing’s talk throughout the 104 minutes documentary? A whole lot of variety. The same goes to the arrangement of the film. One can ride along how her arrangement of the tone of voice and plots of the documentary that have brought them through the mix of feelings, anxiety? Hopeful? Guilt? Or anticipation? At moments she stops, at moments she rushes through the facts and figures.
Chai Jing has had more than ten years working as a reporter under CCTV, the predominant state television broadcaster in mainland China. Wiki her HERE.Through her events of covering SARS and earthquakes, Chai Jing has earned her reputation of becoming an investigative reporter; this ties in well with the entire activism, advocacy, and critical thoughts themed film. The many unprecedented access and footage of the journalist gained on the ground has given the boost on the movie too.
But what brought the film to relate to a wider group of audience and close up personal, is Chai Jing’s personal sharing on how she embarks on this journey against air pollution, for being a mom. She shared on how her care and determination in getting a healthy livelihood for her love ones brought her to this path. Am sure this point has drawn a lot of audience to a personal level, as the population in Beijing only enjoys half of the year having blue skies. She also admitted the state of naive she was to report the thick smog in Beijing as Fog instead years ago.
2) Comprehensive (Why Who How When Where) investigation of the Air Pollution in China
The documentary can be rather long I would say, but it is for a good reason. There is a great diversity in a presentation style that attracts the various level of the audience. The film starts off with an introduction to the air pollution, the effects of it, and moving on towards investigating the cause of it, and concludes with alternative solutions in respect to other great nations that had overcome the similar problems before.
She indeed has a lot of citations in the film, almost every plot of investigation has facts and figures from some academician or connection of hers. Though I did not thoroughly verify her claims, one can be sure that her primary evidence, interviews, have spoken for themselves. Going through various interviews with individuals from industrial interests, energy conglomerates, and bureaucratic hurdles have magnified the urgency as a whole. But, one shouldn’t be investigating and taking her facts and figures too seriously, there is a good reason why so many projections being thrown into the presentation to elevate the seriousness of the presentation. Overall, you should be getting her message:
- Pollution has been slowly killing us over the past decade
- The majority of pollutants is emitted by burning Coal, very dirty and degraded coal in a very uncontrolled manner, and also transportation sector.
- Attempts to regulate emission has been ineffective, local environmental protection agencies are merely mascots with no enforcement authority, even being bullied by industrial players.
- The innovation solution is already here, natural gas, but the energy industry is heavily monopolized not to allow this to happen.
- There are many regulations already in placed in the system, but mostly vaguely created with no respect to the enforcement procedure.
- The ultimate aim? To bring awareness to the end user, the general public, to participate by actively reporting polluters to local agencies.
3) It’s Technically Discussed, yet Layman Explained
That’s the beauty I found. Chai Jing juggled the presentation within the thin line of being technical or general. With every statistics quoted from any sources, Chai Jing and the documentary as a whole will try its best to give a sound analogy for illustration, from graphs reflecting statistics and personal sharing with a mixture of humor and sarcasm! Better still, there is videos and animation to highlight the message. Similarly to Al Gore’s Futurama animation of Understanding Global Warming, Chai Jing’s film has animation on air pollution particles PM2.5 entering our lungs and taking over our immune system. Cute yet terrifying.
Chai Jing made it easy to understand. Given to range of audience in China probably will find it hard to picture the level of pollutants, Chai Jing gave an example such as showing the amount of air pollution particles her moisture tissue contains after being outdoor for 24 hours. She also showed some other activist having aerial photography of different cities across the years having very limited blue sky days. Though I have to admit that the later half of the documentary tends to be a bit dry, with a lot of statistics citing from documents and interview footage. At that presentation pace of Chai Jing, even the English sub titles are too fast to be read (for the fact that Mandarin characters can condense more message given the same amount of speaking duration as compared to English)
4) Inconvenient Footage
Nothing beats a documentary that has first-hand record of any event on the ground or anything the authority has to say. Chai Jing has included several investigation and interview videos during her journalist days that open up the eyes of many. These include some baffling answers from authorities and industrial players, as well as disturbing scenes from the operation room as well as coal plant visit.
Chai Jing also visually presented that China has burned more coal than all the other countries combined in the world. While her interviews also highlight, a complex situation that needs a sound idea to resolve the dirty energy industry. Among the problems highlighted are the usage of lower quality of coal and lack of authority enforcing environmental standards so that the coal plants will”wash” the coal to reduce as much as 60% in SO2.
The bigger problem lies in the power of the environmental department to execute punishment, to order coal plant to close for example. Only, because job creation and energy demand are a clear priority and interest groups are protecting the industry.
5) Bringing on the Conversation – Solutions
Chai Jing footage, however, has also ridden on the positive end. The fact is that many European countries have gone through the similar energy demand phase, and used coal extensively, with enormous consequences on public health. Chai Jing interviewed several individuals in the America, in the UK, and conclude that these countries have moved on to the cleaner production of energy (not to say zero carbon yet!) Natural gas and oil based energy country. She has also directly interviewed Environment Protection Agency EPA and other counterparts to understand the legislative system.
But Chai Jing quoted that only three companies in China are investing into newer forms of energy, mainly due to lack of funding and monopolization of other competitors. She ended the film by introducing what the audience can do. Well hoping that what she addressed will bring on a new wave of change by educating the end users to speak out. She also shared using mobile apps to complain and to spread the positive vibe of change. She speaks that open disclosure is the foundation of public participation.
Will China Move Forward?
I certainly do not know. Chai Jing did report that several efforts are already on the way. On the other hand, she has shouted out the summary of the current situation, cheap, dirty coal that is violating existing environmental standards and affecting public health, thanks to greedy monopolized industrial players that are so powerful to intimidate the government. On the one hand, I actually enjoy the plot and deliverable of the films. On the contrary, I do not know how China is responding to it. Let’s hope for the best.
Because their future generation needs to know what a sky and a sun look like.
The Documentary with English Sub-Titles: