Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Jenny Chio
Wenner-Gren is thrilled to share yet another great trailer and blog post from one of our Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship recipients, Jenny Chio. In 2017 Dr. Chio received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on “These Days, These Homes: An Ethnographic Portrait Film.”
These Days, These Homes
Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship
During the grant period, my work was focused on preparing for and conducting a final period of in-country research (May-June 2018) when I met with Wu and Qin again in Kaili, Guizhou. They had both moved into new houses, again, so filming and production was concentrated on shooting these new spaces as well as holding more “reflective” conversations about changes in their lives and our relationship. I also discussed the next steps of the film with them, letting them both know that I will prepare a cut for their review before any distribution or full public screening. After returning to the US from this in-country research, the remainder of the grant period was used to organize footage (video and audio) and to prepare for a final footage review/logging and editing. In reviewing all of the footage from 2018, 2017, 2015, and 2006-2008, I have begun to develop a stronger sense of narrative in the film as well as to experiment with using first-person voice-over narration to help structure the film.
These Days, These Homes will be an ethnographic portrait film focused on the lives of two ethnic Miao women in Guizhou, China. Wu and Qin, as they are referred to in the film, were both born in China’s post-reform 1980s and both married into the same village, Jidao, at approximately the same time, fourteen years ago in 2004. In 2006, I arrived in Jidao with the intent of studying the village’s nascent tourism development program, and over the period of my fieldwork in Jidao, Wu and Qin both became close friends and interlocutors. Since that time, I have visited them wherever their lives have taken them: from Jidao, to the factory towns of south China (Wu), to the nearest provincial capital city Kaili, where both Wu and Qin now reside, at least part time. These Days, These Homes uses the spaces of their lives – their homes in the village and the city – to illuminate and reflect upon the gendered experience of modernity for ethnic minority women like Wu and Qin, whose lives are still unfolding against a backdrop of rapid, almost unimaginable socioeconomic transformation across rural and urban China.
The majority of the film takes place inside the homes of Wu and Qin, and it will span multiples spaces and multiple years. In the time I have known her, Wu has moved numerous times, from her husband’s village house in Jidao to south China’s Guangdong province to a farmstead built by her family on the outskirts of Kaili city and now, in 2018, to a new concrete one-bedroom apartment within one of Kaili’s informal settlement communities. For Chen, her work as the village clinician and in Jidao village’s tourism has brought her new challenges and new sources of income. Within the village, she has moved three times: from a small apartment attached to the village clinic to her husband’s family house to a newly built home with guestrooms for tourists. Then, in 2018, she and her immediate family (her husband and two children) moved into a brand-new high-rise apartment in one of Kaili’s more well-to-do residential complexes, where they spend their weekends away from the demands of village life. Thus, for both Wu and Qin, their homes reflect not only their individual or household ambitions but, more significantly, refract the parallel but divergent paths taken by these two women.
Framed by their domestic environments and engaged in their everyday, domestic duties (from cooking for their families to preparing to host tourists and guests), the film features conversations with Wu and Qin in which we reflect upon our relationships to each other, the time that has passed since we met, and the times to come down the line. Once completed, the film will be structured in two parts, one each on Wu and Qin, followed by a short coda. My own reflections will be included as a first-person voice over narration, following in the style and tradition of the essay film. Visually, I will keep the emphasis on the spaces of home and domesticity, as these are the spaces in which I interact with Wu and Qin most frequently, but I also will include some footage of their lives in the city and village.
Over the next six months, I will workshop some of my ideas and rough cuts with audiences at UCLA, where I have been invited to give a public talk on the film project, gender, and modernity in China, and at USC in the Center for Visual Anthropology as part of their work-in-progress seminar series.