The Chicago International Film Festival kicks off its 51st edition on Thursday, October 15, and runs through Thursday, October 29. One of your best bets for a nonfiction pick during the festival’s first week is In the Underground by first-time director Zhantao Song.
Fans of the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab (Leviathan, Manakamana) can’t afford to miss this Chinese coal-mining documentary—an immersive film about an extremely dangerous profession that dazzles for its cinematic qualities as well as its emotional and sociological ones. One astonishing tracking shot sees Song place his camera inside of a mining cart that steadily moves towards the bowels of a coal mine and away from its entrance, which progressively becomes a mere pinprick of light on the horizon. No less astonishing is the intimate scene between a miner and his wife conversing about the former’s failure to disclose that he had come into some money out of fear that the latter would spend it on frivolous shopping. In the Underground is a vital, deceptively simple snapshot of contemporary China from an insider's point of view.
In the Underground will screen on October 18 and 19. Song will attend both screenings as part of the film’s U.S. premiere.