chen_weijun-filmmaker-bioPease Vote For Me, the brilliant and utterly enjoyable 55-minute documentary by Chinese filmmaker Weijun Chen, is one of a series of internationally commissioned documentaries exploring the meaning and universal value of democracy. The “Why Democracy?” project, aimed at a broader understanding of the conditions of governance in different societies and cultures, brought together ten independent award-winning filmmakers from different countries around the world, including China, India, Japan, Liberia, USA, Bolivia, Denmark, and Russia, each focusing their films on issues of contemporary democracy. The ten films are scheduled for broadcast all over the world in October 2007.

Weijun Chen, whose first film, My Life is My Philosophy, was nominated for the best documentary of the year by the Chinese National Association of Broadcasters, gained international acclaim for his previous award-winning and heartbreaking documentary, *To Live is Better than to Die (2003), dealing with the effects of the Chinese government’s blood transfusion policy. For more than six months he shared the life of a family stricken with AIDS in Wenlou, a small village in central China, where more than half of the villagers are infected with HIV.

Please Vote for Me

This time, Weijun Cheng aimed his camera at a classroom and the homes of three 8-year-old third graders of Evergreen primary school in his home city, Wuhan, a modern commercial, financial and intellectual centre of 7.8 million inhabitants in the heart of China, and one of its biggest cities.

pleasevoteforme

For the first time, the third graders get the opportunity to elect their class monitor, a position previously appointed by the teacher. As the monitor, one has a certain power over his/her classmates and the duties include maintaining order, reporting to the teacher or even punishing those who break the rules. This time, as an experiment, the children get to choose from three candidates, (selected beforehand by the teacher): Chen Cheng, a charming, endearing and chubby little boy who dreams of becoming the president of China one day and who is also the son of one of the filmmaker’s fellow producers at the local TV station; Luo Lei, a tough boy who was appointed class monitor the year before and whose father is the local chief of police; and last, but not least, Xu Xiaofei, a sweet but frail, timid little girl, who lives with her single mother. Obviously, she does not have the slightest chance of competing against the two go-getters who, as expected, flatten her quickly during the election campaign and drive her mercilessly to tears more than once.

For an hour we follow the different “marketing” strategies, public speeches and talent shows in which each young candidate tries to convince his or her classmates of his or her unique competence to fulfil the role of class monitor. And captivated, we discover the secret plotting of the candidates behind the teacher’s back and the family get-togethers at home, where overly eager parents turn into hard-boiled election campaign advisors who skilfully coach their kids about how to deliver their pitch. But the parental influence doesn’t limit itself to giving advice on how to manipulate the other children. They even blatantly interfere in the election campaign by bribing the ‘voters’ with favours and gifts. For example, Luo Lei’s father, the police chief, takes the whole class for a trip on the city’s new monorail, conveniently administered by the local police, to reinforce his son’s shaky position.

As a matter of fact, the kids seem to prefer the smart Chen Cheng to the bully Luo Lei. Chen Cheng’s final speech is remarkable and outstanding for an eight year old, clearly overshadowing his rival Luo; he has undoubtedly hit the jackpot. But he didn’t count on the ambitions of Luo’s father who has already prepared little gifts for each classmate to be distributed by Luo behind the teacher’s back just before the votes are cast, assuring him the ultimate, unpredictable and utterly unfair victory.

By mirroring the process of how these children develop their strategies to win the election, this hilarious yet scary film reflects all the dirty little games we know all too well from our own democratic elections. With this brilliant twist, Weijun Chen turns the school’s first experiment in electoral democracy into a revealing political tale about how blatant manipulation, bribery, hypocrisy, and fraud win the race and lays bare at the same time how the spirit of democracy is perceived in China. But his film also provides remarkable insight into China’s new urban middleclass where China’s one-child policy entraps success-driven parents and children into merciless competition where the end justifies the means, leaving little chance of developing the skills required for a real democratic spirit.

Interview with Weijun Chen

BLL: “You work for a local TV station in Central China. How did you get involved in this documentary project “Why Democracy”, and what was the initial idea for your story?”

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