J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Slamdance ’17: Commodity City (short)

Buying wholesale sure seems like the thing to do in China these days and the Yiwu International Trade City is the place to do it. Jessica Kingdon takes viewers inside the sprawling wholesale mall to see tomorrow’s dollar store merchandise today, as well as the people who sell it in the short documentary Commodity City (trailer here), which premiered at the 2017 Slamdance Film Festival.

Commodity is definitely the sort of film that could be programmed by the FSLC’s Art of the Real series. However, unlike most non-narrative docu-essays, it is surprisingly bright and colorful. It is slightly surreal to see the various merchants surrounded by cascading plastic flowers and the like, but nobody can fault their merchandising.

Nor can Commodity be casually dismissed as poverty porn. There is a lot of life going on in the mall—and a number of sales are made. Some of the sales staff are pretty attractive and many have their children in tow. Who knows what their margins are, but the Yiwu market is exactly the sort of place where they can make it up in volume, as they say.

Regardless, Yiwu certainly looks like a more pleasant place to work than a Shandong plastic recycling plant. Kingdon, serving as her own cinematographer and co-editor, shows a keen eye for visuals. As a result, general audiences who might otherwise be scared off by its observational aesthetic will actually find it quite accessible. Recommended as a strong festival programming selection, Commodity City screens today (1/30) and Wednesday (2/1) during this year’s IFFRotterdam, following its world premiere at Slamdance ’17, in Park City.

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