2013 MOUNTAINFILM IN TELLURIDE: "XMAS WITHOUT CHINA"

XmasPostcardIn March 2007, the FDA recalled more than 60 million cans of cat and dog food after the death of 14 pets. Later that year, Chinese-made toys were recalled: Mattel took several of its Barbie and Polly Pocket products off the shelves because of concerns over toxic lead paint and hazardous magnet parts.

In 2008, China’s largest provider of milk powder recalled 700 tons of baby formula after one child died in China and more than 50 others developed kidney problems. Melamine, a chemical used in the making of plastic, was found in the formula. It later emerged that unscrupulous manufacturers had been adding it to food products to cheaply boost protein values.

As more and more of our goods were manufactured in China each year, the list of faulty products kept growing: Chinese-made highchairs whose seat backs failed; steam cleaners that burned their users; bikes whose front-wheel forks broke; saunas that overheated; illuminated exit signs that stopped working when commercial power failed; dune buggies whose seat belts broke on impact; and coffee makers that overheated and started fires; loosely knotted soccer goal nets that entrapped and strangled a child. And so on. (Or sew on.)

“The frequency of recalls that involve Chinese makers reflects the country’s outsized role in supplying Americans with low-priced goods,” wrote one online study.

It turns out roughly 40 percent of imported U.S. consumer goods are made in China – but not all the products are faulty, though most are cheap or at least cheaper than the alternative. Can Americans live without Chinese exports such as toys, plates, lamps, and clothes, hair dryer, coffeemaker, Xbox – and most of our Christmas decorations? Could we survive Christmas without Chinese products?  Is it a case of the devil we know – or something even more fundamental about our identity?

“Xmas Without China,” featuring Tom Xia (pronounced Shaw) and directed by Alicia Dwyer, is among the 70 featured films at the 35th annual Mountainfilm in Telluride, Memorial weekend, Friday, May 24 – Monday, May 27.

Tim & Evelyn Jones & Tom Xia, from "Xmas Without China"

Tim & Evelyn Jones & Tom Xia, from “Xmas Without China”

“Xmas With China” is all about two families living worlds apart in the same community – and the need to avoid our impulses to paint an entire country with one broad brush because of a few squeaky wheels.

The two separate worlds of these families collide when pride and mischief inspire Chinese immigrant Tom Xia to challenge the Jones family – yes, the proverbial Joneses – to celebrate Christmas without any Chinese products. Fed up with the recalls, the Jones family accepts the consumer “Mission Impossible” and is drawn into a surprising intercultural exchange with the Xias. As the Joneses wrestle with the escalating influence of China in their lives, Tom struggles to get beyond the stereotypes. Soon he realizes he’s on a deeper journey to understand the complexities of his own divided loyalties between the U.S. and China.

“Xmas Without China” explores the intersection of consumerism and immigration or perhaps even more compelling, the intersection of consumerism and citizenship in American culture.

“Who are we if we don’t make anything anymore?” Evelyn Jones asks Tom.

Director Alicia Dwyer (“Bully,” PBS’s “The Calling”) sums up:

“What particularly strikes me is that the Joneses’ process also illuminates spiritual aspects of our consumer-driven life. If we can’t put up Christmas lights and buy presents, how do we celebrate Christmas?”

And…

“When Evelyn asks Tom if he’s an American citizen, his crisis around his identity brings together for me the material and spiritual questions, like what does it mean to be American in a culture where, as economist Raj Patel suggests, we are often encouraged to think of ourselves less as citizens and more as consumers?,” Dwyer wonders.

“Xmas Without China” is the work of a team including director Alicia Dwyer, who was associate producer on the Academy Award-winning “Into the Arms of Strangers” and a director on “Bully” and PBS’s “The Calling.” Co-producer/cinematographer Michael Dwyer and co-producer/editor Juli Vizza recently debuted “Nine To Ninety,” directed by Alicia, at Hot Docs in Toronto. The creator of “Xmas Without China,” Tom Xia, was a director on a 10-part CCTV documentary series, “A Century of Cars,” and on a 13-part CCTV series “Ocean’s Away” about the lives of Chinese exchange students throughout America.

To learn more about Tom and “Xmas Without China,” click the “play” button and listen to our chat.

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