AWFJ EDA Award @ DOXA 2017 Filmmaker Interview: Jessica Kingdon on COMMODITY CITY

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JESSICA KINGDON DOXA HEADChina’s Yiwu Market is one of the largest shopping complexes in the world. Gorgeously shot, thematically focused and politically resonant, Jessica Kingdon’s ethnographic essay film blurs the boundary between consumer goods and the humans who sell them. Malls consume more than they are consumed, Small spaces, time lost,immersion in distraction. Read what Jessica Kingdon has to say about the making and meaning of her film.

How and why did you encounter and commit to the subject/theme of your film and the main characters in it?

I was interested in working in China, and intrigued by the idea of the Yiwu Market, which is the largest wholesale mall in the world. I wanted to make a film that focuses on the quieter, more subtle moments that took place within such a large and overwhelmingly chaotic place whose occupants are focused on buying and selling. I thought the mix of visual abundance and everyday life would make a compelling story. As a mixed race Chinese American I was interested in visiting China, a country which is foreign to me and yet connected to my heritage. I think the film offers viewers an interesting point of view of a place where people usually go to bargain, not to look and listen without agenda. The market is relevant to most people (a large portion of the world’s consumer goods pass through the doors of this mall) and yet and yet it can feel so foreign. Most of what we hear about China is a mix of extremes and stereotypes, many of which have to do with consumerism and manufacturing. The film offers a glance into the everyday human life of that world.

What did you learn about the subject/theme from making the film?

I learned that remote controlled flying inflatable sharks are a thing. I now own 6.

What did you learn about filmmaking from making the film?

You absolutely need to put in the hard work to get anything done, BUT at the end of the day there is something inexplicable that makes a project work or not. You just have to keep pushing until you get to that point, though you don’t know when that point will come. That’s why it’s so hard.

What were your biggest challenges?

The editing was tough because I didn’t have a road map of what kind of “story” I wanted to tell. It ended up being more of a series of tableaus observing various stalls but I had to find a through-line to make the film cohere. So finding the guiding principal for my editing was the hardest thing to do.


Do you think that being female gave you a distinct perspective and/or way of handling the filmmaking process?

There is a certain patience that this type of filmmaking requires. You can’t be so instantly results oriented. Being female might allow for a kind of patience to allow things to unfold in front of you without inserting your own presence in the scene. Of course I don’t claim to be completely invisible. The filmmaker always changes what they are filming. But I try as much as I can to have minimal disruption to the environment I’m filming.

Who are the Filmmakers whose work has inspired/influenced your own?

Kinda all other the place list but: Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Werner Herzog, Michael Glawogger, Nikolaus Geyrhalter,
Ulrich Seidl, Miranda July, Jennifer Baichwal, Frederick Wiseman, Chantal Akerman, Jane Campion, Ingmar Bergman

What are your plans for the future?

I’m working on turning this into a trilogy. The second part is doc about Chinese people vacationing in a small island in Micronesia. I’m interested in studying different forms of leisure (as opposed to “Commodity City”, which was partly about chronicling of labor).

What advice do you have for other female Filmmakers who are trying to make their way through a still male-dominated industry?

Start by noticing any bias first. I used to take equality for granted and it took me a while for it to really sink in how few female directors there are. I didn’t palpably experience feeling underrepresented until I started paying close attention. Once you notice it, push yourself more to be heard if you feel like that’s not happening. The industry is becoming more aware of its white male dominated culture. People should be receptive to other voices. If they’re not, call them out on it, on the spot, and in front of others. Don’t be afraid to draw attention to it – sometimes people don’t know what they’re doing until you point it out.

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