China’s Uyghur population has been in the news a lot in Canada. Lately this has been because Huseyin Celil, a Canadian citizen originally from China’s Xinjiang region, was imprisoned in China, and the Chinese jibbing at Canadian consular access has caused considerable diplomatic tension between the two countries. Thus, the timing of a new Canadian documentary about the Uyghur experience seemed to me quite fortuitous. But “On a Tightrope” (which is actually a Canadian-Norwegian co-production) is not simply a current-events exposé meant to explain the situation of China’s largest Muslim group (although the film does some of that), nor is it a work of confrontational activism (although the opening sequence features a suit-wearing, cell-phone-using, fancy-car-driving Chinese official saying that they are forbidden to translate this conversation). We never even hear about the East Turkestan Republic, a short-lived independent Uyghur state that existed from 1933-4 (a forgotten part of history that I personally find quite fascinating).
But it hardly matters. On A Tightrope is a lyrical and at times surprisingly critical portrait of life among a marginalised people, and it’s admirable for the way that it avoids romanticism.
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