HAWAII INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
To avoid getting fined for falling asleep, factory workers use clothes pins that keep their eyes open. "China Blue" documents the plight of garment workers in Canton.
Chinese documentary will leave you feeling blue
In the 86 minutes it takes to watch this film, a young woman named Jasmine and her 15 co-workers at Lifeng Factory in Canton will have made 50 pairs of jeans. Collectively they will earn $1.45.
In Mandarin and Cantonese with subtitles
Screens: 6 p.m. Tuesday
Place: Dole Cannery
This final statement in "China Blue" reads like an epitaph, sadly closing a remarkable documentary that makes any Western viewer face an unsettling reality: We are part of this problem. Whenever we buy clothes made in China we become part of this shameful cycle.
Filmmaker Micha Piled makes her point through simple, effective storytelling -- no preaching.
You don't need that when you have Jasmine Lee, a fresh-faced teenager who makes the trek from her farm village in Sichuan province to the town of Shaxi, Canton, to find work in the denim industry. Her day starts at 8 a.m. and ends whenever the work is done, sometimes well past midnight. Overtime pay kicks in after 11 hours. Penalties are assessed for tardiness, leaving the building without permission, laughing out loud.
Her job is to cut the loose threads from finished jeans, and in an hour she earns half a yuan -- 6 cents.
Millions of young Chinese women share a similar story, the narrator relates. They can see their families only at New Year's, and then only if they can afford the train ride back to the countryside -- a month's pay. After her first few months, Jasmine cannot.
The factory owner -- Mr. Lam, a one-time child laborer himself -- is not an evil man. The camera follows him to a meeting with a British buyer who tells him he must deliver his jeans for $4 a pair. Lam calculates that he will make about 20 cents profit on each of the 200,000 jeans.
To meet the demands of Western "major brands," we learn, factory owners must skirt laws regarding pay and work conditions. Then we see Jasmine catching a few hours sleep in a dorm room shared with 11 others, watch them struggle to stay awake at 1 a.m. working amid piles of denim. We try to remember what we last paid for blue jeans and realize their true cost.
Canada's "Sharkwater" is among documentaries nominated for a Golden Orchid award.