A girl named Nan Nan…

Nan Nan is a young girl living in Guo Zhuang Village, in China’s Anhui province. Her parents died of AIDS sometime ago, and she now lives with an older sister — and HIV.

After her parents’ death, the two girls were shunned by relatives and left to live without adult care. “Little Flower,” Nan Nan’s teenage sister, is about to get married. She vows not to tell the groom about her sibling’s disease.

Nan Nan is one China’s estimated 75,000 (and growing) AIDS orphans. She is one of several children whose depressing story is captured in a documentary film, The Blood of the Yingzhou District (China/USA, 40 mins, 2006).

I watched this film last afternoon at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington DC as part of the DC Environmental Film Festival. For me, it was one of the highlights of the festival. After all, this film won the Oscar award for Best Documentary, Short Subjects (while Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth won the Oscar for best documentary feature).

Notwithstanding the giggly woman moderator provided by the host institution, and even in the absence of any representative from the film’s producers – China AIDS Media Project — the audience managed to have fairly good discussion with a representative from Family Health International who was panelist to discuss the issue of AIDS orphans.

Accoring to FHI, some 15 million children worldwide have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS — and the numbers continue to grow as the pandemic consumes men and women of child-bearing age.

But the millions and billions don’t make much sense to most people. It’s hard to visualise more than a few thousand, let alone millions. This is something that UN agencies – all claiming to be serving the poor and disadvantaged – often forget: they dabble in the abstract, theoretical and statistical matters far removed from real people, real issues.

In that sense, films like The Blood of the Yingzhou District take us close to the unfolding human tragedies behind big numbers.

This is just what we tried to do in our own Children of Tsunami media project, in which producing a documentary film was one of many outputs across different media platforms and formats.

A question was asked how the film has been received in China. The giggly moderator informed us that it is allowed to be screened in China, which is encouraging. But the Chinese response to the film has been mixed, as can be expected. See this interesting exchange online.

What impressed me the most was the film’s subtle yet powerful use of soundtrack – a good mix of music, natural sounds and spoken voices. Some featured children did seem a bit like acting at times, but that didn’t detract the film’s value too much, at least for me.

Truly a moving image creation that moves people!

See trailer on YouTube.

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