James Franco GRD ’16 won’t be the only Yalie at the Oscars this year.
The Warriors of Quigang, a documentary about an environmental battle in China co-produced by Yale Environment 360, was nominated for an Academy Award in the short subject documentary category last Tuesday. The film follows the plight of a village besieged by polluting chemical factories in cahoots with local government officials, tracking the villagers as they fight to cleanse their air, water and farmland of waste.
Attended by around 40 graduate students, faculty and community members, the film was shown in Kroon Hall on Thursday evening. A discussion followed with Warriors filmmakers Thomas Lennon ’73 and Ruby Yang, who won an Academy Award in 2007 for their documentary The Blood of Yingzhou District.
“We first heard about this story in 2007, when we were told about it by an NGO,” Yang said. “We went in [to Quigang] in May, and the story just unfolded in front of the camera.”
The movie focuses on a chemical factory in the village of Quigang, where most villagers are farmers and very few are literate. The factory keeps its hold over Quigang by bribing and intimidating local officials, forcing residents to live with excess pollution.
But the introduction of the filming crew, which followed NGO workers as they worked to help the village with its David-and-Goliath battle, inspired villagers to fight back against the factory owners.
“The presence of a camera definitely affected the story,” Lennon said. “There’s no question that, as what often happens with documentaries, the camera changed the subject.”
The documentary was filmed over three years and was finalized and released late last year. On Jan. 10, the film was made available for free on Yale Environment 360’s website as a way to make the film more accessible to people like the Quigang villagers, Lennon said.
“This is the very first time we’ve launched a film on the internet,” Lennon said. “It feels weird but very right.”
Although the filmmakers receive no direct financial gain from the film, the film has been successful in other avenues. Roger Cohn ’73, editor of Yale Environment 360, said that internet traffic on the website has been building steadily since the film’s online release, particularly outside the United States.
Cynthia Parker, a New Haven community member who was at the screening, said the documentary reminded her of some of her experiences living and teaching in China.
“I saw environmental damage everywhere I looked, the Yangtze was horrendously polluted — I saw dead bodies floating,” Parker said. “When I left China my biggest issue was environmental protection … and this was in 1987, before things got bad.”
But Parker said the film also served as a testament to the spirit of the Chinese people.
“The miracle of modern China is the people: their pure decency, patience and courage,” Parker said.
The winners of the Academy Awards will be announced Feb. 27.