"An unsettling foray into China’s live-streaming hysteria." – The Film Stage
"Offers myriad glimpses into dozens of ordinary lives across the world's most populous nation...a rich pageant of the quotidian." – Hollywood Reporter
"The film raises important questions about the politics of viewership, the documentary form’s complex ties to reality and about human relationships in a digitally connected world." – CineVue
- International Film Festival Rotterdam *Best Film*
- Montreal International Documentary Festival *Grand Prize*
- Cinéma du Réel *Young Jury Special Mention*
- FICUNAM *Special Mention*
- New Directors/New Films
- AFI Fest
This distinguished documentary on China’s live-streaming phenomenon distills the digital manifold by focusing in on several little-known “anchors” from different provinces — to examine the motivations and culture behind the exponential rise of virtual relationships, and the social reality of China that it mirrors.
In addition to creating internet celebrities, China’s live-streaming phenomenon has penetrated into the culture in a general way, providing interactive connectivity to regular people across both urban and rural areas via mobile networks. Nearly half a billion people used the technology in the first year of adoption, communicating in real time and seamlessly exchanging forms of digital value.
Present.Perfect. acknowledges this promise of the internet as a humanistic technology, weaving together a narrative from the live streams of twelve anchors across ten months that challenges standard notions of companionship. Several of the characters recount their struggles with face-to-face social interaction due to identity or disability, and most seem socio-economically marginalized in the real world. The characters include a young garment worker and single mother, a man who survived a fire, a street dancer, a crane operator, a man with a developmental disorder, a factory worker with Michael Jackson moves, and a pig farmer’s daughter. Although the line between performance and reality can be blurred further online, these anchors as well as their small virtual communities generally seem motivated and attracted to authenticity, and a desire for genuine relationships in their difficult lives. They are ordinary people taking interest in one another.
Nevertheless, the film also captures some of the other side of the coin as it surfaces naturally, in surprisingly invasive questions or the inevitable, unaccountable outbursts of online toxicity. It is a testament to the resilience and optimism of the characters that they largely shrug such things off. The film also allows enough space for contemplation of troubling questions around privacy, surveillance, and censorship that remain offscreen, yet likely exert a contextual presence for most viewers. A few minor references to censorship are in fact made by the anchors themselves, in relation to avoiding shutdown, yet the anchors leave an overwhelming impression that they are freely speaking their minds and sharing their authentic selves. An explicit monologue about the Great Chinese Famine is even given by a veterinarian.
Present.Perfect. offers a humanistic interpretation of inevitable, inherently amoral, technological advance. It reminds viewers that technology can and should serve to empower humanity, as opposed to overtaking and controlling it. As such, it implies some urgent questions for the present moment, and points toward partial answers.
124 Minutes | Mandarin Chinese and Chinese dialects, with English subtitles
Directed by Shengze Zhu
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