There’s no denying the entire world has changed over the past year. The global pandemic of COVID-19 has forced entire communities to shut down, while closer to home, we deal with politicizing the simple act of wearing a mask. Everywhere we turn, there’s agenda-laden information grasping for our attention. When compounded with isolation, the situation has been simply overwhelming for most of us. While we know the virus originated in China, we haven’t heard much about how the country has faired since the novel coronavirus hit our shores. Director Helene Zhuge now presents Maizidian, a documentary tasked with describing the current situation in China.
The film centers on George Doupas, a Czech-born Greek photographer who has called China home for more than a decade. As he travels Maizidian Subdistrict in Chaoyang, Beijing, he encounters artists, police, and business owners — mostly ex-pats — who gush about the tremendous job the Chinese government did in responding to COVID. Of course, these experiences are 100% authentic and not at all contrived, right?
Look, it’s no secret that the Chinese government is known to embellish a bit, so let’s do some vetting.
“…Doupas… encounters artists, police, and business owners…who gush about the tremendous job the Chinese government did in responding to COVID.”
It turns out George Doupas actually is a professional photographer based in China, according to his Instagram account that dates back to 2015. The moments with his spouse Yixue seem genuine, and he speaks Mandarin well, judging from his conversations. He’s just a curious choice as the vehicle of Maizidian. When we first meet him, he’s not wearing a mask, which admittedly is a bit jarring to a U.S. citizen from a major city. He also has a tendency to interrupt and talk over his subjects, revealing an arrogant streak that’s simply off-putting.
There’s also the question of the timeline. Certain events in this movie are said to have taken place in 2019, though there’s no explanation as to why a crew would have been tracking George Doupas back then. Supposedly, he had an exhibition in his home town of Krnov in the Czech Republic, but to have all this documented just before COVID broke out is a little convenient.
It’s also convenient that George just happens to run into these ex-pat artists and artisans while attempting to track down his good friend Lao Song, a high-ranking government official with the title of Party Secretary of Chaoyang Park. Some of the subjects, such as American theater teacher, Allen Gregory Joseph, and Japanese restaurant owner, Shi Xin, evoke at least a hint of authenticity, while others don’t click so well.
"…this isn't a documentary, it's a mondo movie..."