In 2010, builders broke ground on the Xu-Huai Highway, a section of China’s 100,000-kilometer highway system in the mountainous western region of Hunan province. Zhang Zanbo spent more than three years at the construction site, filming the conditions of the migrant laborers, contractors, officials, and local residents there. The rise of this highway has been marked by frequent public security incidents, acts of resistance, and mafia interventions. The construction has laid the landscape and many historical and cultural sites to waste. As this miracle of modern engineering takes shape, it offers an apt allegory for the dreams of a nation.
When development is the mainstream ideology of the era, and the entire nation is in love with speed, what else is there to say? On the one hand are economic progress and technical development, and on the other are environmental destruction and the decline of morality. On the one hand is the modernization of materials and technologies, and on the other is chaos encroaching on civilization. The world has never been like it is today. The roads are wide, but the people who walk them have no idea where they are going.
–Zhang Zanbo, director
The Road is a rare glimpse of the path toward economic reform. It slices the construction of a highway into cross sections to reveal the builders behind a nation’s development and prosperity and their connection to the villagers who are forced from their homes to make way. The film is a sincere interpretation of China’s strident quest for development at any cost.
The construction of thousands of kilometers of highways across the country reflects the problems China faces in its rapid development, including poorly regulated employment relationships, unsafe infrastructure, and the clash of interest groups. Underpaid young villagers have flooded the cities, leaving children and the elderly behind with no one to care for them, causing a vicious cycle that bodes an even darker future for the next generation. Empathetic and understanding, Zhang Zanbo spent three years filming this construction project, staying on the scene until its completion.
Language: Mandarin and Hunan dialect with Chinese and English subtitles
Running time: 94 min
Director: Zhang Zanbo 張贊波
Films and schedules may be subject to change.