And then again, Suzie asked me to catch another film with her, this time Present. Perfect. The write-up and premise was interesting. Seven hundred hours of live streaming media had been reviewed to be distilled in an almost two-hour documentary piece. I didn’t expect it to be like the 24-hour time capsule film Life In A Day (2011) nor did I expect the vaudevillian take Guy Maddin did with My Winnipeg (2008) or the lesser known One Million Dubliners (2015, not directed by Guy Maddin).
Projected entirely in black and white, the film started with a caveat that before it was regulated, China had 422 million live-streamers. Although mostly popularized in the west in video game streaming in Twitch, webcam pornography, and distance learning– it was a means of entertainment in China. Some streamers were so popular that they received gifts redeemable in cash (a topic repeatedly talked about by the streamers through the film). However, the film tackled a myriad of disparate live-streamers from amateur street performers, Youtube-style v-loggers, and even laborers live-streaming their mundane tasks. As each chapter unfolded, the film took a deductive approach: from a panoramic view of China in scenery, a seemingly random showcase of sample live-streamers, to engaging the most interesting live-streamers as they revealed more intimate details of their lives.
There was some nuggets of interest in this chaotic soup of imagery. For a viewer of a more arthouse fare, I feel that they would have the patience to traverse each story and gaining some meaning from it. However, each clip felt like a vignette from a voyeuristic, reality show perspective. The filmmaker did their best to curate the most interesting bits from the footage to paint a picture– a time capsule of China between 2016 and 2018. It was no easy task as after a while, the film got a little too dry and sometimes exploitative as the subjects covered were not the run of the mill live-streamers. However, if the filmmaker would’ve taken a more mundane collection of misfits, rather than select the outliers– the film would’ve been a two hour slog through a Youtube hell most viewers are most likely familiar with and probably are going to a film festival to avoid.
Vincent Ternida is an emerging author whose pieces have appeared in Ricepaper Magazine, Dark Helix Press, and was longlisted for CBC Short Story Prize in 2019. Ternida’s first novella, The Seven Muses of Harry Salcedo, was published by Asian Canadian Writer’s Workshop. He currently has a collection of short stories in development. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.