Among the precious few highlights screened in the Panorama section, Jordan Schiele’s The Silk and the Flame (2018) reminded us that documentary can be a vehicle for great storytelling. Yao, a Beijing resident nearing forty, returns to his home village for Chinese New Year to visit his deaf-mute mother and invalid father, whose dying wish is to see his son wed. Yao, however, is gay and has no plans on getting married.
While Jordan Schiele’s camera captures everyday life in rural China with fascinating insight, what stays with audiences long after the credits roll is how Yao selflessly puts aside his own needs to support his family, all while fending off their relentless need to see him settle down with a nice woman.
Though the documentary follows just one family, one gets the sense in watching that there must be countless other like Yao, who feel stifled by the conventions of traditional society and are unable to live openly as their true selves. Through the microcosm of Jiwa and one man’s struggle, the universal quest for love and acceptance gets a fresh perspective.
The Silk and The Flame is a documentary that nearly broke my heart. I had to stop the film several times while I was watching it because the images on the screen were just so upsetting. And they were so upsetting because they were of real life.