‘Ascension’ director Jessica Kingdon on tracing the growing public interest in China

Ascension” is a feature documentary on the Oscar shortlist about the pursuit of the “Chinese Dream.” This observational film presents a contemporary vision of China that prioritizes productivity and innovation above all. For first-time feature film director Jessica Kingdon, the response has been an unexpected surprise. Watch the exclusive video interview above.

“It’s definitely a kind of reception that we didn’t have in mind when we were making the film,” she admits. “People are interested in China, in general, today. While we were making this film we were explaining it to people as being about the global supply chain. Especially with the pandemic now, the global supply chain has taken on particular relevance. Everyone understands what we’re talking about now. A few years ago it was kind of like an abstraction. With the pandemic that abstraction has been made concrete.”

The observational approach of the film includes no interviews with any of its subjects. Kingdon explains that her film crew wasn’t a distraction to the factories or various other workplaces they entered. “We were kind of the last things on peoples’ minds,” she says. “Once we went in and explained, as best we could, what we were doing, we would just figure out who was comfortable being on camera and who wasn’t. We tried to be as invisible as possible. We didn’t have a sound person there. We didn’t have a boom pole or anything like that.We tried to keep the footprint as small as possible so that we could get footage that feels natural.”

At one point during filming Kingdon was accused of being a corporate spy. She says throughout the process a “feeling of paranoia was imbued all along.” “In the back of my mind I always felt like I was too paranoid and just being crazy or not paranoid enough,” she admits. “That’s the thing about shooting in a country like China sometimes that will make you feel a little bit mad.”

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