Arts Desk

Environmental Film Festival: Ghost Town

The follow-up punch to tonight's screening of Disorder, Zhao Dayong's Ghost Town is a three-part deconstruction of how the past is quite literally being left to fend for itself.  Split up into three distinct stories—"Voices," "Recollections," and "Innocence"—Dayong film takes us deep into the remnants of a village nearly hidden among the mountains. Streets are empty save for the elderly and children left behind by those that left to find work in urban centers. There's the Catholic priest who deals with the lingering ghosts of the Cultural Revolution, and his father, who remembers being taken away to work camps; the couple bordering on a break-up because one wants to get a trucking job; and roaming packs of children, bored and searching for some way to kill time.

It's easy to balk at how Ghost Town unfolds—spoiler, it's 169 minutes—but the episodic nature is as crucial as the long single shots Dayong takes to establish the soul of his town. There're no talking heads or progression cues to string us along—only the conversations captured between people as they discuss the town drunk or mourn at a funeral. Shots are framed wide and from far off, giving the impression that Dayong wanted to be as unintrusive as possible while representing what makes such a place unique: early on, an elderly woman wanders in front of the shot, stops and turns around to chastise him: "Why are you filming this? It’s boring!”

No, it really isn't.

Ghost Town screens 2 p.m. on Sunday at the Freer Gallery of Art in the Eugene and Agnes Meyer Auditorium. Free. Auditorium opens 30 minutes early.

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