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Architecture on Film: The Iron Ministry + Songhua

An exploration of China through the lens of filmmaker and anthropologist J.P. Sniadecki. 

A researcher from Harvard’s revered Sensory Ethnography Lab (from which has come films such as Leviathan (2012) and Manakamana (2013)) Sniadecki’s singular, experimental and engaging work continually breaks its own fourth wall, blurring the line between documentary and art in its search to reveal the construction of places, people and film itself. This screening presents two of Sniadecki’s works in London for the first time, using a pair of infrastructural arteries – one ecological, one industrial – to reveal keen insights into the labour, life and economy of a nation on the move.

The Iron Ministry


The Iron Ministry
 offers a vital armpits-and-all social portrait of China via the mobile microcosm of a journey on what will soon be the world’s largest railway network.

A montage of multiple rail journeys into one, the film offers audiences a trip in a cinematic carriage, in which ongoing changes in China’s society and economy, technology and development, hopes and fears, all ride. Both painting sensorial pictures and engaging passengers in intimate dialogue, the camera becomes a fellow passenger of the train – both a participant and an observer – in the film’s non-narrative investigation into the realities of contemporary China, the passage of modernity, and the possibilities of documentary form.

“[The film’s accomplishment is found in the encounters between the many elements that went into the making of the film...] The classic, iconic, and clichéd encounter between the railways and cinema; the encounter between human beings and the physical/architectural space of each train car (and how that encounter shapes bodies, postures, gestures, interactions, etc); the encounters between passengers – and between passengers and the filmmaker – within the fleeting social space that each train car creates; the encounters between ideologies, motivations, aspirations, and values within those encounters; and the encounter between a filmmaker and a small hand-held consumer camera and the cinematography that it produced.”
– J.P. Sniadecki

China/USA, 2014, J.P. Sniadecki, 82 mins. Mandarin with English subtitles.

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SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
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