Jessica Kingdon made her feature directorial debut with the documentary “Ascension,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in June. The film explores the pursuit of the “Chinese Dream” and is an observational piece that gives audiences a window into a culture that prioritizes productivity and innovation above all. After winning Best Documentary Feature at Tribeca, “Ascension” earned six Critics Choice Documentary Awards nominations and was nominated for Best Documentary at the Gotham Awards. Watch Kingdon’s exclusive video interview with Gold Derby above.
“It’s a really cool feeling,” Kingdon says of the accolades her work for MTV Documentary Films has received. “It certainly wasn’t expected for us since, in my mind, I was making a small, indie film. It’s rather unconventional in some senses so for it to have the kind of exposure that it is, is really rewarding to have people responding the way they have been.”
“The ‘Chinese Dream’ is kind of a slippery term that’s been popularized by President Xi Jinping in recent years,” Kingdon explains. “It’s very similar to the American dream in that anyone, if they work hard enough, can achieve a certain level of economic stability or even get rich. There are a lot of similar echoes of American culture and this belief that if you work hard you will be rewarded. Of course we know this is not true for everyone. In China, one way that it differs is that it focuses more on nationalism and kind of a nationalistic comeback to China as a global player on the world stage.”
Kingdon has had an interest in China because of her own heritage and her curiosity to understand China as a global stage for the paradox of progress. “The paradox of progress is really magnified in contemporary China because of the vast changes it’s gone through in the past few decades,” she explains. “When a society undergoes so many changes, I think a lot of these larger philosophical questions about the meaning of work and questions about what value is and the purpose of life [come up]. There’s a lot of echoes of American and Western culture there. For me it was also about trying to understand capitalism in a different context outside of the states, in a country that’s still nominally Communist. I think we can understand how aspirational culture and materialism operates in a more clear-eyed way when we see it in a different context.”
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