We’re proud to virtually screen Second Tier City, a film co-directed by Han Xia and Matthew Moroz that won the prize for Best Documentary at this year’s Vancouver Lift-Off Film Festival. Tying in with our photo theme this week — Things in Yiwu — Second Tier City is a story…
about the city Yiwu in China and the people who live there. Yiwu has the largest small item market in the world which has over 50,000 stores. Young people in the surrounding area have been moving there to start a business.
Its called Second Tier City because cities in China are ranked by the government based on the money they generate, among other things, and Yiwu is considered second behind cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou which are First Tier. Yiwu for it’s size is ranked rather high because of the massive market where you can buy every type of small item manufactured in China in one place and the massive amount of money and trade that generates.
This film primarily follows the lives of two young women who are chasing their dreams in Yiwu.
Watch the film below, and scroll past that for an interview with the filmmakers:
Radii: What were the weirdest things you saw in Yiwu?
Han Xia: Yiwu is probably the most international city I’ve been to in China. There is so much diversity. For example, you will see a Muslim restaurant right above a McDonald’s, or a West African mom pushing a baby carriage on the street. They even have money exchange booths in every mall. Unlike most of the first-tier cities in China, it doesn’t matter which school you went to. Starting a business is almost like a must-do for young people in Yiwu, just like getting married and having babies. They are eager to talk about owning a business, and there is no shame about not being well educated.
Matt Moroz: What I found strange about Yiwu is how well designed the market is. I’ve been to markets around the world and Yiwu is the most unique one I’ve seen. It’s so well designed that many of the stores look like contemporary art installations you would see in New York. There’s also so much variety it really feels as if you are walking around a physical eBay.
“Starting a business is almost like a must-do for young people in Yiwu, just like getting married and having babies” – Han Xia, filmmaker
How did you get the idea to shoot this mini doc?
Han Xia: Matt showed me a bunch of photographs published by the New York Times in the very beginning of 2014, which immediately caught our attention. As someone who is very familiar with Chinese mall culture, I was shocked how massive the markets are there, and how amazing it looks when thousands of different items are displayed in a particular way. Matt originally had the idea of going there to film, and I luckily managed to find some local contacts who were willing to help us through Weibo.
Matt Moroz: We saw a photo essay by Eric Michael Johnson in the New York Times and that inspired us to go take a look. We ended up staying three weeks. It’s such an interesting place, we could’ve continued shooting different subjects. The history is also fascinating, but we wanted to focus on a small, personal story.
How has Second Tier City been received internationally?
Han Xia: I was surprised that a lot of people really liked it, including audiences who have never been to China before, since it is an extremely low-budget film made by two people. They feel connected to many aspects. I haven’t showed it to many Chinese audiences, but I’m very interested to hear their comments. They could be very different.
Matt Moroz: So far the response has been really great. We’ve shown the film at a few festivals, and it won Best Documentary at the Vancouver Lift-Off Film Festival. Overall we’re really happy, because this was a small, self-funded project. We didn’t think many were people going to watch it.
Cover photo and still courtesy Matt Moroz