The program of economic reforms initiated in China in 1978 by Deng Xiaoping aimed to finance the modernization of the nation. But what Communist Party leaders called "Socialism with Chinese characteristics" looked suspiciously to many as a return to capitalism. Today, some three decades later, the results of those sweeping economic reforms have become plainly visible in a country increasingly divided between its rural and urban sectors.
Filmed in five different regions of China, UMBRELLA provides a telling look at the vast changes that have taken place in Chinese society, including a massive migration from the countryside to the cities, the rise of a prosperous new class of businesspeople, millions of new college graduates competing for a shrinking number of jobs, and the neglect of China's largest population group, its rural peasants.
Filmed in a purely observational style, with no narration or commentary, UMBRELLA shows the workaday life of young employees in a factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, where they engage in monotonous, endlessly and rapidly repeated routines to manufacture umbrellas, for which they are paid a meager piece rate. At a massive shopping mall, the "World's Largest Small Commodity Market," in Yiwu, Zhejiang Province, those multicolored, multipatterned umbrellas are sold at much higher prices by wholesale merchants, who are among China's nouveaux riche.
The film also shows throngs of young people filling out applications at a job fair in Shanghai or undergoing physical drills and ideological regimentation at a provincial garrison of the People's Liberation Army. Finally, on a farm in Luoyang, Henan Province, we watch a group of elderly farmers struggle to salvage a premature harvest of drought-impacted wheat.
UMBRELLA makes sadly apparent the old adage about "the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer," with China's peasant farmers, who are struggling to survive amidst the combined forces of globalization and the new Chinese economy, bearing the brunt of the country's growing pains.
"Fascinating, if brutally depressing. It paints a decidedly different picture than the Chinese government would want you to believe."—Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid
Honorable Mention, 2008 Cinéma du réel International Documentary Film Festival
2007 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival
2008 San Francisco International Film Festival
2007 Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival
"In creating a vast societal portrait through his focus on umbrellas, Du pulls off the rare feat of capturing the ephemeral."—Jennique Mason, San Francisco Bay Guardian