Directed by Yi Cui • Documentary • 2016 • 79 minutes
OF SHADOWS is set in the unique landscape of China’s Loess Plateau, where the shadow play, as an enigmatic art form, has entertained people and deities for centuries. The film follows a lively and resilient group of shadow play performers as they navigate between the rural staging of ancient plays and the urban spectacle of national cultural heritage.
The film starts when the local performers in a small county called Huanxian are gathered to rehearse for the region’s shadow theatre festival. The performance of modern cultural preservation is contemplated, as the folk artists move towards a grand stage. Meanwhile, the filmmaker follows the same group of performers into mountain villages where the shadow play theatre serves local life. A poetic picture of the folk artists unfolds as their everyday life and performance meander through light and shadow.
By juxtaposing the rural and the urban, the grassroots and the official, the state and the local, the light and the shadow, the film paints a haunting portrait of a revered folk tradition transforming against the backdrop of a country in constant transition.
As the last part of Yi Cui’s trilogy Ying, which explores the theme of cultural decay and revival, OF SHADOWS goes beyond the melancholy over the decline of traditional culture and searches for the resilience and vitality in the grassroots and the folklore. This poetic ethnography continues the filmmaker’s pursuit for the rhythmic flow in cinematic medium - meanings are conveyed not only through narrative threads but also through the musicality.