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The Opaque God

Gu Tao

Release year: 2011

Run time: 90 mins

Film type: Documentary


Guankouni is a 74-year-old lady and also the only surviving Oroqen shaman. She used to put the tributes in the shrine on the first or fifth day of every month, according to the traditional way of worshipping the gods. After recovering from an illness, an idea comes to her: she hopes to find someone to take over from her and carry on this ancient religious culture. Young people today no longer believe in God; this is the biggest obstacle to finding her successor. She targets her daughter Daisy and son Jurong, but the results of the succession ceremony become less predictable once local government gets involved …


Director biography

Gu Tao was born in 1970 in Inner Mongolia, China, where his father was an ethnographer and photographer. Gu graduated in 1995 from Inner Mongolia Art College with a major in oil painting. After studying photography at the China Academy of Art in Beijing, he started making documentaries, many of which have one awards at international film festivals (Yamagata 2011, Singapore 2012). Gu Tao pursues his ethnographic documentary vocation from a home in the artists’ village of Songzhuang, Beijing.

Director's statement

The Oroqen people living in northeast China believe in Shamanism. A shaman is a messenger from God and the angels. The Oroqen people left the forest which they had lived on for generations and started settled life in 1953 at the initiative of the Government. In response to the government’s call to "get rid of feudal superstition", Guankouni held a "farewell altars" memorial ceremony to bid farewell to the gods she carried. The event lasted for two days and nights, and her priest’s coat was discarded in an unknown place deep in the mountains…

In the new century, however, protection of traditional culture and heritage became mainstream. Shamanism, previously a superstition, is now treated as a part of traditional culture and Guankouni the inheritor of the shaman customs and culture. She’s lost in the whirlpool of the new terms such as “eco-tourism”, “cultural protection” and so on.

Is this only a single case or a microcosm of society, the divine will or the will of man?