Joshua Brunsting

by: Joshua Brunsting
June 20th, 2011

Rating: 3.5/5

Writer: Brook Silva-Braga
Director: Brook Silva-Braga

Coming from the Midwest, particularly the economically gut-punched state that is the Mighty Mitten, Michigan, I’ve seen firsthand what the economic crisis, and the outsourcing of jobs that occurred for years prior, can do to an area. A former factory worker myself, I may not have seen my job be handed over to people in a different country, or even simply left behind due to cheaper labor somewhere else, but I have seen areas like Detroit get assaulted when major companies leave the area.

This is, in turn, what the new documentary from director Brook Silva-Braga attempts to shine its deft and deeply interesting light on. The film, entitled THE CHINA QUESTION, takes a look into the control that China has over the import market, and why they have become the king of imports within the U.S. Inspired by Silva-Braga’s mother’s own boycott of China-made items, the film asks the question of how the U.S. has become so dependent on Chinese-made items, but also what that dependency has done to both countries, particularly in today’s modern economic climate.  Companies up and leave the states seemingly daily, and THE CHINA QUESTION attempts to show us why that occurs, and what happens here in the states in the wake of a company’s departure.

With the film opening on our filmmaker’s mother and her boycott, one would imagine that the film would be a biased fueled ride in the vein of something like SICKO or any other Michael Moore documentary.  However, while there may be touches of Morgan Spurlock-like style, this is far from that. It’s simply an intellectually stimulating piece of documentary filmmaking from one of the genre’s up-and-coming stars.

As a film, this doesn’t look or feel like anything outside the lines of, say a piece you’d see on something like any of the major TV news magazines like 60 Minutes or for you sports fan, Outside The Lines. There isn’t much in the way of directorial style here, at least nothing that truly catches your eye. But that said, that’s partially why the film works so well.

The film’s biggest star here is Silva-Braga. While the director may not have a hugely innovative style, we see the filmmaker travel all over the world, and in situations that really add not only intellectual merit, but also has the ability to spark conversation between those watching. Similar to a CurrentTV Vanguard special, THE CHINA QUESTION has a great sense of context as well as scope, giving us a look at both sides of this respective coin. We are sent to China to jump inside their factories, as well as middle-America, to witness the repercussions of what happens when the respective companies leave.

That said, not all is well. One of the film’s primary flaws comes in an interesting, but wholly unimportant device used by the filmmaker, involving the responses of regular people when asked what they think of when they hear “China.” The setup is fine, but it comes off as really stagnant and uninteresting, even when the responses are subverted near the film’s middle. It holds no weight when looking at the film as a whole, and ultimately just fails to make the film any more interesting.

However, with any good documentary, the most important thing is to inform the viewer, and that’s exactly what this film did. THE CHINA QUESTION takes on a massively important and influential topic, and while it simplifies a few topics, it doesn’t pander to the viewers, nor talks down to them. Almost like a Charles Ferguson documentary in a way, the film is really well researched and is unbelievably strong in sparking conversation and discussions between those who view the film.

Overall, THE CHINA QUESTION is the exact documentary this type of topic deserves. A deep look into one of the world’s most important financial topics, CHINA allows its viewers to come in with any level of previous knowledge, and sparks intellectual debate between them.  Able to discuss a topic like this without pandering or talking down, THE CHINA QUESTION gives the perfect amount of respect to this deeply important topic, and also allows for the viewer to connect through truly moving stories on both sides of the film’s topical coin. Not a world-changing piece of documentary filmmaking, this is not one that should be missed either.

The film is now available on DVD.

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