Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It Doesn't End When the Shaking Stops

     This week's earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, reminded me that the tragedy doesn't often end for the victims after the debris is removed and the city rebuilt. A few weeks ago I attended a lecture by a psychiatrist who has been making frequent trips to Haiti for the purpose of training Haitians to counsel victims of last year's devastating earthquake.
     The importance of that work hit home when I saw the Chinese film, Aftershock, at the Palm Springs International Film Festival in January.  Director Feng Xiaogang has created a stunning epic that chronicles the emotional journey of a single family following the devastating earthquake that destroyed the city of Tangshan in 1976 and killed 240,000 of its citizens.  The heartrending tale follows the survivors over the next 32 years as they suffer the emotional effects of the tragedy.  Like the aftershocks following a major quake, the trauma of the event continues to reverberate throughout their lives and the lives of those who come to love them later in life.
     Aftershock was the highest grossing domestic film in China in 2010.  It is the first Chinese feature to be filmed in IMAX, and ironically that may keep it from building the audience it deserves.  Although the dramatic earthquake effects that open the film are a new achievement in China, they are not enough to attract international film goers jaded by the multi-million dollar special effects extravaganzas produced by Hollywood every year.  The current international IMAX tour will probably fail to draw large audiences, which is a tragedy of its own.  What makes this film special is not the technical effects but the story itself, and that story was compelling enough to warrant four separate IMAX-free screenings in the largest venues of the Palm Springs festival this year. 

     This is a film you should see.  Chances are you won't find it at a theater near you, so do the next best thing and reserve it on Netflix.

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