Release year: 2016
Run time: 75 mins
Film type: Documentary
The documentary Jia Yi objectively uncovers the real world of left-behind children in rural China, combatting social stereotyping of this special group that lives in the remote and underdeveloped regions.
Jia Yi, one of these children, cherishes every single reunion with her parents, who work as migrant labourers: she travels thousands of miles with her grandfather to visit them; lying on her father’s leg and crying silently is her way of resisting saying goodbye. Tears flood her eyes so violently that she can’t speak when her mother has to leave earlier than planned to start working during the spring festival. However, life goes on whether you are ready or not. Jia Yi struggles to survive the suffering of separation, but in the meantime, she must learn to forget this pain and pretend to live like a normal child who enjoys her time in school with her peers. She, like a mature adult, can make her younger brother cry and then burst into laughter. Their life is filled with tears and laughter as they grow up together.
“Sadness” is not supposed to be one’s first impression of these unattended children. Even though they have to withstand loneliness and desperation that are not normally experienced by their peers, they still have their share of happiness and innocence. They contribute to maybe a minor part of this era but their very existence still leaves its mark on this thriving and varied generation.
Jiang Nengjie is a renowned independent filmmaker, documentarian, and director. He was born in Hunan province in 1985 and was member of the first generation left behind by parents looking for work in cities. In 2009 he established his Mianhuasha Film Studio and produced numerous documentary films featuring the countryside in China. In 2010, he made the documentary film The Road, which was nominated for the 7th China Documentary Film Festival. His most well-known film is Children at a Village School (2014), which is about village children left behind by their parents who go to the cities to work as migrant workers. It won Best Documentary Film in the 3rd Phoenix Documentary Awards. He has produced numerous films since then, including The Ninth Grade (2015), Anti-Japanese War Veteran (2015), Jia Yi (2016), The Sichuan Army Veteran Peng Guochen (2017), Yun Jie (2018), and others. His most recent documentary, Miners, the Horsekeeper and Pneumoconiosis (2019), has been very popular online due to the increasing public attention to health issues after the coronavirus outbreak. He is currently working on Rainbow Cruise, which is a documentary film about the LGBT community in China.
Left-behind children seem to convey to people an impression of sorrow, loneliness, and poverty. This fixed pattern of response to issues concerned with left-behind children is rooted so deeply in our minds that we are partly blind to the real world in which these unattended children dwell. Hence, we have put a lot of effort in this documentary into revealing the neglected fact that kids living in rural area are not representatives of misery, but still enjoy their lives with delight and innocence. Even though it is harsh for them, at such a young age, to experience desperation and separation, crude reality shortens the distance between this particular group and the audience through its vivid and authentic appearance.
During filming, we took a close look at the life of one of these unattended children, whose name is Jia Yi. We literally lived with her and her brother at home every day. Together we got bored, crazy, and played the same game repeatedly without getting fed up with it. I had to keep reminding myself not to be compassionate or empathetic towards them at the very beginning of filming. All these natural emotions would impede my entry to their intricate internal world formed by particular experiences. I managed to take on a role in their games and sometimes I would travel thousands of miles with them to briefly see their parents, and then say goodbye. Rather than a bystander, I wanted to be a member of this special group so that I would be able to taste their feelings myself.