is an issue that can turn an ostensive philanthropist into an evangelist for
draconian controls on the unwashed masses. Should we be concerned about hordes of
debased people waging global battles for increasingly scarce resources? Filmmaker
Jessica Yu went into her latest project expecting to find a crisis but came
away with the somewhat more nuanced perspective informing her
self-referentially titled documentary Misconception
premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
was TED Talker Hans Rosling who first tempered Yu’s alarm and duly serves as Misconception’s guru. According to
Rosling, 80% of the world’s population now live in countries with 2.5 child
birthrates or less. As a result, global population growth has leveled off. The
other 20% are still procreating at rates that would give Warren Buffet conniptions,
but corresponding life expectancy also happens to be relatively low in those
nations. That is all well and good, but if Yu really wanted to rock viewers’
worlds, she would have introduced them to the work of the late great Julian Simon.
meat of Misconception consists of a
triptych of disparate individuals whose lives have been shaped by population
planning policies in some fashion. The first is by far the best. With the help
of Chinese filmmaker Lixin Fan (director of Last Train Home and executive producer of China Heavyweight), Yu follows Bao Jianxin’s determined efforts to avoid becoming
one of China’s “leftover men.”
implementation has been severe, but the One Child policy has curtailed China’s
birthrate dramatically. Yet, it has come at an enormous social cost. Since boys
are prized above girls, many couples opt for gender-specific abortions until
they have a son. Like many of his “Little Emperor” generation, Bao faces an
uphill challenge in his search for a wife. The numbers are simply against him.
Yet, Bao also sabotages his best chance with a quite attractive old flame,
because she cannot compete with Shu Qi in his favorite film, Love.
Yu and company only scratch the surface of the potential social instability
resulting from the One Child policy. Misconception
also argues part of Bao’s problem is an increasing trend amongst Chinese
women to choose careers over traditional family roles, but this too might
partly be a function of the entitled attitudes fostered by “Little Emperor
the most loaded segment follows Denise Mountenay, a pro-life activist, who has
found her calling lobbying against legalized abortion at the UN. At least she
is from Canada, because in most other respects she fits the least charitable
stereotype of Evangelical Christians. She is a hard charger, who has had her
share of horrific experiences and undoubtedly means well, but she does not
serve her cause well on-screen.
with the ideological charge of the second segment (clearly heightened by
deliberate editing choices), the third POV figure is easily the safest.
Journalist Gladys Kalibbala does her best to heighten awareness of the
staggering numbers of abandoned Ugandan street orphans, humanizing them in
profiles and trying her best to re-connect them with extended family members.
It is a noble response to a tragic situation.
is at least one misconception in Misconception.
Essentially, Rosling argues fear of a third world population explosion will increase
global warming are misplaced, because it is those who live in the developed
world that use the most resources. Yes, but the most precipitous increase in
fossil fuel consumption is expected in India and China as they pursue aggressive
electrification policies (a worthy goal), at the lowest possible cost.
In fact, you can almost feel Misconception holding back, struggling
to maintain some sort of class-conscious, environmentally orthodox message.
Still, it is admirable Yu was willing to re-examine her assumptions to any
extent. A radically mixed bag, the inconsistent Misconception includes provocative arguments and distracting noise
in nearly equal measure. For those who closely follow the work of Yu and Fan, it
screens again this Saturday (4/26) during the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.
Labels: Documentary, Jessica Yu, Lixin Fan, Tribeca '14