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Quendrith Johnson

Quendrith Johnson is Los Angeles Correspondent covering everything happening in film in Hollywood... Well, the most interesting things, anyway.
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Bittersweet SPLENDID LAND plays a new tune for some of China’s 55 ethnic minorities

By Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent



In the short film SPLENDID LAND, an ethnomusicologist muses on Tajik, Khazak, India-influenced Mukam musicians, and Uyghur song and dance culture in a Marcel Proust-like reminiscence of Northwestern China, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. 


During the Pandemic as a bookend for the film, a kaleidoscope of multicultural sights and wonders light up a rolling vast swath of grasslands to the Gobi desert, as recalled from a UK home base. The recollections are a device to “fly over” some of China’s 55 ethnic minority intact subcultures, a non-political panorama of sorts.


“They are enjoying a blissfully happy life,” the narration says of the Kazhak nomads who raise a yurt that would pass muster for the most discerning ‘glampers’ with exquisite ridge beams for the roof decked out in a shell of heavy canvas. A colorfully decorated screen protects the tent-like outer perimeter from the elements.  

A hawk-feathered dancer draws a community celebration to a surreal level as music from atonal instruments carries on gusts in the wide open spaces in Xinjiang. Snowcaps to SUVs that drop off horse riders in a competition to camel steps in desert sand. It is interesting to note that deserts occupy 20 percent, and growing, of China’s vast territory.


Uyghurs are depicted in their native dress with peaceful lives, playing instruments, leading daily routines, spiritually enriched.




It is unexpected scenes like this by co-directors Eleni Vlassi and Jin Huaqing, who put together this Chinese/Greek co-production, that have wowed audiences and juries at film festivals, recently winning the Best International Short Documentary Award and the Audience Award in Greece.


News headlines reflect one aspect of the story, but this is perhaps the beauty of film, especially short films.


Documentary subject explorations allow for a cultural window, without the political ramifications, to bear witness to the beauty of flash moments in time, whether it be Uyghur dances on the shore, or an impromptu Mukam orchestra tuning up the joy in this COVID-strained world right now. 



And as China stretches to 1.408 BN people this year, followed closely by India which may overtake them in a few years, remember that the Silk Road marks the Chinese as having run the oldest economy in history, dating back 4000 years. From silkworm cocoons came a boon in not only international trade, but in human relations.


Viewing films like SPLENDID LAND, remind us of the vibrant colorful hems, not just cultural geographic borders, but the rich ethnographic heritage woven into this Asian country’s multi-cultural history.


While some international social organizations often raise concerns about the Uyghur ethnic minority, the slice-of-life scenes in SPLENDID LAND offer another insight into this ancient land in Xinjiang.


For this Eleni Vlassi and Jin Huaqing should be commended for rounding out a narrative so few in the West understand. SPLENDID LAND is in festival rotation.


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