A single, uninterrupted shot just shy of 80 minutes meanders through People’s Park in the heart of Chengdu, Sichuan province. Elegant and brilliantly composed at every turn, this documentary engages the senses and presents viewers an intimate cross-section of a Chinese urban oasis. Cohn and Sniadecki’s virtuosic cinematography is simple yet meticulous: one holds the camera while seated in a wheelchair and the other navigates their pre-determined path through the park. Passing lush lawns, waltzing couples and lounging musicians, People’s Park does not cease to mesmerize, as viewers are led to stroll along with the crowds in realtime through this microcosm of society.
The site of protests in 1911 that eventually brought down the Qing Dynasty and Chinese Imperial rule, People’s Park is now a stage for citizens of all ages and stripes to congregate and daydream, to set their own pace, to coexist in the closely shared social space. The unobtrusive gaze of the camera goes with the flow, meets the eyes of children and nonchalant retirees, captures a vivid array of activities and interactions while the air brims with karaoke tunes, idle conversation, and the casual music of erhus.
Like its many regulars, People’s Park sets its own pace and challenges the documentary filmmaking’s potential for engagement. The immersive power of cinema is mobilized to its fullest, inviting the viewer to participate in a meditative journey and rediscover the feeling of free time. With spontaneous moments of conviviality, People’s Park takes you through the dynamic range of leisure in the contemporary Chinese city.