The trailer for Yellow Sheep River which will play at the 2010 San Francisco Film Festival.
In the far western province of Gansu, China, the changing seasons and their agricultural routines remain at the crux of everyday life. Director Liu Soung leaves behind many of the conventions of documentary filmmaking for a purely observational portraiture that allows the traditional patterns of Yellow Sheep River to tell their own story—free of dialogue and subtitles but full of ordinary beauty. Opening on itinerant blind musician Chen Kai-yo playing his sanxian (three-stringed banjo) on a hill above the striking rural valley of Yellow Sheep River, the film soon bypasses any hint of romanticism—sweeping vistas overripe with color or sound—for the quiet power of ordinary detail, and the small ways that modern life has crept into a deeply traditional world, leaving us a uniquely vital sense of life in a small Chinese village. Families knead dough for stone ovens, mothers make shoes for their children and, in the climax of the agricultural cycle, busy hands harvest the grain. It’s in these straightforward actions that we see and feel just how far industrialized cities have left behind their sustaining connection to the physical world. With Chinese politics and the dynamics of poverty taking a back seat, the audience focuses on the basic rhythms of pastoral life without judgment. Yellow Sheep River’s resonance comes from bringing up deeper questions about our growing estrangement from the natural world.