News and Reviews
Educating About Asia Through Film    


Spring 2012         

Issue: #44          


In This Issue
Letter From The Editor
Film Review: Light Up Nippon
Film Review: China's Business in Africa
Film Review: Fruit of Our Labor
Film Review: Beijing Besieged By Waste
Website: Digital Asia
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The Spring 2012 edition of News and Reviews features five films that were screened as part of AAS Film Expo 2012: Asia In Current Motion presented at the Association for Asian Studies annual conference, on March 15-18, 2012 in Toronto.

For the expo, twenty-eight films representing East Asia, South Asia, Central Asia and Southeast Asia were viewed by over 450 conference attendees.  (see selected films).  Attending an AEMS film screening, as did Howard Choy (see his review of two films on the China-Africa relationship below), is an excellent route to becoming a reviewer for this publication.  We here at AEMS look forward to continuing our role as curators for the 2013 film expo at the AAS annual meeting in San Diego.

Additionally, please note that this is my last issue as editor of the AEMS newsletter. It has been two years since AEMS went digital, and it has been a rewarding experience for me personally. Please send future inquiries and suggestions for films to be reviewed to my colleague Jason Finkelman at



Nancy Jervis   



Light Up Nippon  

Directed by Kensaku Kakimoto. 2012. 28 minutes.
In Japanese with English Subtitles.

Reviewed by Cindi Textor. 

Light Up Nippon

In the year since the 3.11 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, the disaster has elicited an enormous range of human responses: from the worldwide outpouring of sympathy and charitable giving to political protests centered on resistance to nuclear energy, from perseverance in the face of hardship to stubbornness in the face of change, and of course, overwhelming sorrow and mourning. Light Up Nippon, a short documentary film sponsored by the Japan Foundation, tells the story of one of those rare moments of celebration-solemn, yet jubilant-to take place in the months following the catastrophe.  

"Light Up Nippon" refers to a fireworks display that lit up the sky along 300 kilometers of the Tōhoku coastline on the evening of August 11, 2011, the five month anniversary of the disaster. The film traces the project from its inception just days after the tsunami to its completion several months later, in parallel with the Tōhoku region's progress from utter devastation to the beginnings of rebuilding and a return to some semblance of stability.  




When China Met Africa   


Directed by Marc and Nick Francis. 2010.   


75 minutes & 60 minutes (for classrooms).   


In English and Chinese, with English subtitles and SDH captions  


Directed by Ella Raidel. 2011.
45 minutes.

In English, Portuguese and Chinese, with English subtitles.

Reviewed by Howard Y. F. Choy. 

When Hillary Clinton criticized China for its "new colonialism in Africa" last summer, was she indicating the U.S. government's hitherto ignorance of China's "foreign assistance" that exported rice and railways, along with communism, to "liberate" the continent early in Mao's era (1949-1976)? Or was she simply expressing her frustration over the failings of the African Growth and Opportunity Act in trading American goods for Africa oil? Competing with American post-Cold War hegemony, China's expanding footprint in Africa is both a twenty-first century continuation of the European-model of colonialism as well as a modern revival of the imperial Chinese tributary system-be it the Han, Tang or Qing empire-as exemplified in its present-day international hunt for energy and natural resources.  


The U.S. Secretary of State's castigation of China was made during a pan-African television interview in Zambia, a landlocked republic in southern Africa and the story setting of When China Met Africa.



The Fruit of Our Labor:  

Afghan Perspectives in Film   

Produced by Community Supported Film. 2010. 114 minutes.   

In Dari and Pashto with English Subtitles 


Reviewed by Angela Williams.


What are everyday Afghans doing to improve their lives and rebuild their country for future generations?  The Fruit of Our Labor: Afghan Perspectives in Film is one answer to this question.  The film is comprised of ten short documentaries created by Afghan filmmakers during a documentary training session provided by Community Supported Film (CSF), a Massachusetts-based not-for-profit organization.  While the films provide little background and explanation for the situations portrayed, they do give succinct depictions of how people are striving to survive amidst the challenges of a poorly functioning government and infrastructure, underemployment and a history of ethnic strife.


The strength of each film is how it serves as a window onto the lives of ordinary Afghan men and women in their pursuit to improve the country and their own livelihoods.



Beijing Besieged By Waste    

Directed by Wang Jiuliang. 2011. 72 minutes.
In Mandarin w/ English subtitles.

Reviewed by France Pepper.  

The very mention of Beijing conjures images of its imperial past - landmarks like the Forbidden City and the Ming tombs.  Soon that may change.  Film director Wang Jiuliang's cinematic reportage draws our attention to the fact that Beijing's  landfills now far outnumber its landmarks. From 2008-10, Wang counted close to 500 dumps and landfills surrounding Beijing, almost  like a moat, and piled high like a tumulus.  Some of them are only  10 miles from the Forbidden City,  Bejing's heart and center.


Using a combination of Google Earth, photography, video, and thought-provoking commentary, Wang Jiuliang juxtaposes Beijing's rapid urbanization, often touted as an economic miracle, with the negative environmental and social consequences of the city's expansion.  He begins with footage of newlyweds taking photos by a creek and cuddling sheep, an idyllic scene if it were not for the toxic water in the creek and the fact that the sheep are feeding on nearby garbage instead of grazing in the mountains. Clearly, the couple has no idea how their own lifestyle is contributing to what can only be considered a looming environmental disaster.

Digital Asia Link

Digitial Asia, a website bringing documentary films on contemporary East Asia to the classroom, has been launched by the Asian Educational Media Service (AEMS). In providing free access to excerpts of scholar made films on Asia, along with downloadable curriculum materials, Digital Asia offers high school and college educators an easy way to incorporate today's issues in Asia as part of their lesson plans. Digital Asia can be found at:  


Digital Asia is funded by the Freeman Foundation of Stowe, VT., New York City and Honolulu and by the IL/IN East Asia National Resource Center funded by U.S. Department of Education Title VI.




The Asian Educational Media Service (AEMS) at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign will host the 2012 NEH Summer Institute for Teachers Chinese Film and Society from July 9-August 3, 2012.  The program will include films from the May Fourth period to contemporary times, both documentary and feature, and is open to middle and high school educators.  The Institute is co-directed by Nancy Jervis and Gary Xu of Illinois.  Institute faculty include Paul Pickowicz (UCSD), Stanley Rosen (USC), Myron Cohen (Columbia).   


Application deadline has passed


Additional information available at


AEMS invites our supporters to make targeted donations to enhance our holdings and public programs. A donation of $30 can be used to purchase a film for the AEMS library. $300 will sponsor an AsiaLENS screening on campus or in the Champaign-Urbana community. $500 will help underwrite a film and curriculum materials in Digital Asia. Donations for specific materials or events will be acknowledged both in News and Reviews and at sponsored events. Thank you for your ongoing support of AEMS.

Follow this link to make an online donation.

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AEMS - Asian Educational Media Service Fund -or- Digital Asia Fund

Previous issues of News and Reviews:

Electronic newsletters - September 2010 - Winter 2012

Archived print newsletters - Spring 1998 - Fall 2009

Media Production Group
In addition to hosting film screenings, AEMS also produces and distributes its own materials under the brand name Media Production Group (MPG) .  These are short educational videos and DVDs about an aspect of Asian culture suitable for classroom use and accompanied by curriculum. 

AEMS maintains a searchable database of over 6,000 films about Asia, including length, format, distributor and synopsis. 

AEMS library, through its connection to the Lincoln Trails library system, circulates videos and DVDs locally from its collection of more than 2,000. 
AEMS CEAPS University of Illinois
Asian Educational Media Service, 805 W. Pennsylvania, Urbana, IL 61801