With the Coronavirus pandemic, we are still being forced to stay in (state or self-imposed) quarantines one way or another and as a result, we all watch films more frequently than before and documentaries seem to be among the top genres people turn to. Whether they are feature-length or short, whether they are essayistic, observational, or nature-related, documentaries seem to be trending now. The sheer volume of documentaries found around us has made it difficult for filmmakers, especially independent ones, to be able to compete with this wave of new films, and for a documentary to stand out, it must be exceptionally made, and its topic and theme(s) must be relevant. A documentary that can present and analyze its subject brilliantly and, potentially, share its unique treatment of the issues dealt with. A film that can help us understand ourselves and the world better, and possibly help us resolve the issues that exist around us.
Flushing is an outstanding documentary and its interesting topic catches one’s attention right from the start: It’s the story of Chinese immigrants who have formed a new community in the United States, the name of which is Flushing. It is supposed to be a neighborhood that makes the immigrants feel at home, so they’d feel like they’re not that far from their homeland, at least spiritually and psychologically. The film recounts the story of workers who have lived in the United States for more than 10 years and they seem to have no dreams but to return to China. One of them is a woman who still can’t speak English after living there for many years and has no friend or relative in New York, and she likes to return to her family and loved ones in China after retiring. The narrator of the film explains how Chinese ex-pats getting together in another country does not necessarily bring them closer to one another. On the contrary, it makes them drift apart from one another. The narrator’s explanations and what we see of the neighborhood create a bitter atmosphere that can be easily felt and understood. The feeling of homesickness in the land of the dreams, the United States, is shown with a new, unique approach. As the narrator quotes one of the inhabitants of the neighborhood, there are problems that people looking from outside don’t see and, as a result, don’t understand.
The film itself is made out of a superb mix of images of both the streets, sidewalks, and bystanders and images of people working in closed spaces such as restaurants and offices in the neighborhood. As it is shown, and as one can guess, many of these Chinese immigrants can’t find good jobs in their new home and they often get involved in dangerous and illegal jobs. What was once a promise of a better life becomes a gate that leads to a psychological and physical breakdown. The film explains how some of them used to be teachers or accountants in China, but now they have to share an apartment with five or six people, and work as (low-level) workers.
Life, as reflected in Flushing, might be a small slice of life, but it encompasses so many of the issues immigrants have to face today. Sihan Cui, the director of the film, has tried to show the depth of the problem through his minimalistic approach and it has worked perfectly. In addition to this approach, Cui's use of secondary characters to show the different 'experiences' of Chinese immigrants proves to be quite effective as we see a woman who runs a small restaurant and dreams of going back to China, an old man who falls asleep out of tiredness when he's working at the office, and an Uber driver who has not gone back to his homeland because he knows that nothing is waiting for him there. As mentioned above, the film uses these characters to highlight the various problems these immigrants face and tries to capture the heart of the matter. It is as if these people are stuck in a dead-end situation, a dead-end that might be invisible to the eyes of the others but it does exist.
Although Flushing is a short documentary (under 8 minutes), it does a great job of introducing and developing its treatment of the issues immigrants have. This was made possible by a combination of footages of the streets and alleys and the market, and the voice of the narrator who tells the story behind this place. When people see this neighborhood from the outside, they do not know what goes on inside, they do not know about the immigrants who are not feeling at home in what was promised to be a piece of their homeland. This is not going to be a home for them. The film paints a clear picture of the life of these Chinese immigrants in Flushing without forcing its own view about it, as it simply presents what immigrants go through. Flushing uses a perfect rhythm, brilliant images, expertly calculated editing, a touching narrative, and a detached yet concerned approach to the topic of immigration, and becomes a unique experience for those who are looking for a great short-length documentary. What one can see from Flushing and its director’s concerns for the lives of immigrants points to the fact that the future is bright for Sihan Cui and his potential future projects as he has shown that he can add something meaningful to the current discussion of immigrant issues and, at the same time, can make an enjoyable film that attracts the viewers to come and watch/listen to these people’s stories.
Flushing - Awards & Recognition:
* Best Web and New Media, Independent Shorts Awards, Silver Awards: October 2020, Los Angeles, USA
* Best Short Documentary, New Wave Short Film Festival, Munich, Germany
* Best Short Documentary, Rome International Movie Awards, Rome, Italy.
* Official Selection, Film in Focus International Film Festival, Bucharest, Romania.
* Official Selection, Toronto Documentary Feature & Short Film Festival, Toronto, Canada.
* Official Selection, Direct Monthly Online Film Festival
* Finalist, Seoul International Short Film Festival, Seoul, Korea.
* Official Selection, FLICKFAIR, Los Angeles, USA.
* Nomination, Best Web and New Media, Indie Short Fest, Los Angeles, USA.