The Iron Ministry. 2014. USA/China. Directed by J.P. Sniadecki. Courtesy Icarus Films

J.P. Sniadecki filmed his evocative documentary The Iron Ministry over a period of three years while riding across China’s elaborate railway network. A veteran of Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, the filmmaker is attuned to the subtle audiovisual details of the train’s material environment—the squeals of locomotion, a power cable slicing across the sky—yet he also maintains a human scale. The movie’s agile, searching camera observes workers and passengers in the cramped economy cabins as they share a joke over cigarettes, discuss the promise and limits of the “Chinese Dream,” or sleep wherever space allows, sometimes in contorted angles of repose. The confines of the film’s setting may be narrow, but its implications—aesthetic, political, and otherwise—are expansive.

Organized by Thomas Beard, independent curator.

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