Oct 26, 2017 at 7:30 pm
THE OTHER HALF OF THE SKY: A CHINA MEMOIR
Screening to be followed by discussion with Claudia Weill, Herb Tam and Steve Macfarlane
UnionDocs presents a screening of The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir a film by Shirley MacLaine and Claudia Weill.
Following the normalizing of relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China in 1972, Shirley MacLaine led a group of American women from different walks of life – including an activist from Mississippi, a Texas housewife, a California shrink, a Puerto Rican sociologist, and a representative of the Navajo Nation – on a two-month tour of the Middle Kingdom. Feted by Communist Party representatives (including Deng Yingchao, wife of premier Zhou Enlai), the MacLaine delegation saw a new side of China to which Cold War-era moviegoers were rarely exposed, while bristling against the more “programmatic” aspects of the tour. From Beijing to Shanghai to Guangzhou to the Great Wall, the journey was captured in incandescent 16mm by documentarian Claudia Weill – who would go on to make the seminal Girlfriends a few years later.
MacLaine butts heads against notions of artistic genius and the common good, measuring carefully how Party authorities ensure that children grow up to live and work elbow-to-elbow. “One child has monopolized a toy airplane meant for all the children,” MacLaine’s voiceover advises. “We have to think this problem over.” Like Antonioni’s Chung Kuo, Cina, MacLaine and Weill’s film casts a deliberately anthropological eye to the processes it captures – in this instance, for the purposes of learning from Maoist feminism and taking camaraderie lessons back to the American heartland. Screening for the first time in over 40 years, THE OTHER HALF OF THE SKY is an invaluable travelogue; more than that, it’s an utterly sui generis glimpse at a goodwill interaction between American privilege and Communist discipline, made during the height of what we now understand to have been the Cultural Revolution.
THE OTHER HALF OF THE SKY
74 minutes, 1976, Shirley MacLaine and Claudia Weill
Shirley MacLaine was invited by the Chinese government to bring a group of seven American women with her for a tour of the Chinese mainland. The women, who were of different races, ages, and economic levels, were accompanied by government guides and went to Beijing, Shanghai, Canton, and Hangchow. Highlights of their tour include seeing farms, homes, schools, day care centers, and a Caesarian childbirth using acupuncture for anesthesia.
CLAUDIA WEILL is a film, television and theatre director. Her feature films include GIRLFRIENDS (made independently and sold to Warner Bros), IT’S MY TURN for Columbia Pictures and THE OTHER HALF OF THE SKY A CHINA MEMOIR (Academy Award Nomination). She has directed theatre at Williamstown, the O’Neill, Sundance, ACT, Manhattan Theatre Club, the Public Theatre (Margulies’ FOUND A PEANUT), Pasadena Playhouse, EST and Irish Rep (The BELLE OF BELFAST). Her TV work includes Sesame Street, thirty something (Emmy), MY SO-CALLED LIFE, FACE OF A STRANGER (EMMY for Gena Rowlands) and GIRLS (HBO). She teaches TV Directing at the New School and Columbia University and serves on the Executive Committee for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to which she was the 3rd woman admitted as a director in 1981.
Herb Tam is the Curator and Director of Exhibitions at the Museum of the Chinese In America. He recently co-curated “Waves of Identity: 35 Years of Archiving,” an exhibition that explored the construction of Chinese American identity through MOCA’s archival materials. In 2012, he curated “America through a Chinese Lens,” which surveyed photographs of America by contemporary artists and non-professional photographers of Chinese descent. Tam was previously the Associate Curator at Exit Art and the Acting Associate Curator at the Queens Museum of Art. Tam was born in Hong Kong and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. He studied at San Jose State University and earned a masters in fine arts from the School of Visual Arts, New York
Steve Macfarlane is a critic, programmer and filmmaker from Seattle, Washington. He has organized screenings for UnionDocs, Anthology Film Archives, Quad Cinema and Spectacle; his writing has appeared in BOMB, Cinema Scope, Hyperallergic and The Brooklyn Rail, among others.