EXCLUSIVE: On a corner of a street in the burgeoning city of Chengdu, in China’s Sichuan province, a club called Funky Town became a “sanctuary for underground partying,” attracting a diverse crowd of young DJs, drag performers, “lovers, ravers, and skaters,” and others.
Funky Town and a vibrant, sometimes troubled group of its 20-something patrons occupy the frame in The Last Year of Darkness, directed by Ben Mullinkosson (Don’t Be A Dick About It). Emmy-winning film studio Wavelength and Kindred Spirit announced today they are coming on board the documentary, which holds its world premiere on Tuesday at the prestigious CPH:DOX festival in Copenhagen. We have your first look at the film in the exclusive clip above.
Wavelength and Kindred Spirit bring funding to the project alongside Florence, Robina Ricitiello, and Jennifer Pritzker. Anita Gou and Sam Intili of Kindred Spirit are producing along with Sol Ye (I Have No Legs, and I Must Run). Executive producing the film are Jenifer Westphal and Joe Plummer of Wavelength, Jerad Anderson and Natasha Seubert of Florence, Robina Ricitiello, and Jennifer Pritzker. CAA Media Finance will be handling U.S. sales.
The Last Year of Darkness offers an immersive and perhaps unprecedented view of contemporary China and its typically hidden alternative subculture.
“With an agile and playful, but always caring camera, we are picked up across the street late at night and taken on an intimate journey full of loud music, glowing neon lights and heavy make-up,” CPH:DOX writes of the film. “A journey that takes us deep into Chengdu’s alternative youth and its struggles, doubts, working life, self-destruction and redemption. A Bass-heavy journey that ends only when the sun rises over modern China.”
Westphal, Wavelength’s founder, CEO and executive producer, commented, “At Wavelength, we are committed to telling culturally impactful stories of lesser-known or under-recognized communities. It’s an honor to be able to showcase The Last Year of Darkness at this year’s festival.”
Director Ben Mullinkosson is confirmed to be on hand for the film’s premiere and an additional screening on March 24 (a third screening will be held on March 26). Some of his characters are expected to attend as well. The Chicago native studied observational documentary filmmaking at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and spent several years working on The Last Year of Darkness.
“This film came about by drinking plum wine on the dance floor of Funky Town in Chengdu, China,” Mullinkosson tells Deadline. “Everyone on camera is a good friend of mine from years of partying in the underground community in Chengdu. We all love techno music and that’s what brought us all together.”
He adds, “I remember when Yihao found out I am a documentary filmmaker he asked me, ‘When are you going to film me?’ And I said, ‘How about Saturday night?’ That’s how the film started. We started following our friends getting ready for the night at 9 p.m. and then would follow them observationally until they go to bed at 9 a.m. We kept this going for 120 nights over the course of three years, and as we filmed more and more we were invited deeper into the lives and vulnerabilities of everyone’s experience outside of partying. The film ended when this magical underground partying era ended and everyone was forced to move forward with their lives.”
In addition to the drag performer Yihao, Mullinkosson’s characters include Kimberly, 647, Darkle and Gena. Kimberly displays extremes of emotion, alternately fighting with her boyfriend and pleading with him for reassurance. Despite her great physical beauty and talent as a musician, she seems plagued by a negative opinion of herself.
“I think Western audiences are going to be pleasantly surprised how relatable everyone on camera is,” Mullinkosson says. “My friends on camera are going through many of the same problems I went through in my early twenties. I heavily relate to their experiences and hope other people can too. As Yihao puts it, ‘We’re all people.’ This film to me really is a love letter to the underground party scene in Chengdu… All those emotions that come with living in this lifestyle, such as being lost or self-destructive, are products of living in [a] society that can’t understand or support us for who we are. We need places like Funky Town to catch our breath, and escape even if it’s just for one moment. This film is really a celebration of life, a life that sometimes can only be celebrated in darkness.”
Mullinkosson’s previous film, Don’t Be a Dick About It, premiered at IDFA in Amsterdam, where it won the Audience Award. He calls unveiling his latest film at CPH:DOX in Copenhagen “a dream come true. For the protagonists of the film it’s the first time they get to come to a Western country, and to be able to show off the underground party community in Chengdu to such a large audience, that may not have ever expected that underground partying even exists in China, is truly an honor.”
In the exclusive clip above, Yihao attempts to catch a cab in Chengdu after a night of performing at Funky Town.
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