Film Reviews: Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Roger & Me

A Mansfield native ties up
the global economy with
Mardi Gras beads.


David Redmon doesn’t come across like a typical filmmaker. The Mansfield native has studied sociology and cultural theory at Texas Christian University and Texas Weslyan University, and he’s much more at home discussing the writings of Noam Chomsky and David Horowitz, or taking a shot at Thomas Friedman’s most recent book on globalization.
Globalization is much on Redmon’s mind. His recent documentary, Mardi Gras: Made in China, follows the plastic beads used during the New Orleans celebration back to Fuzhou, China, where they’re made by teen-age girls working 10- to 20-hour workdays for seven to 10 cents an hour. The factory’s owner, Roger Wong, makes an eminently hissable villain, earning millions off the labor of employees who are fined if they talk during working hours. Speaking openly about how punishment leads to productivity and how “lady workers” are easier to control, Wong can’t imagine why his girls would be bored or unhappy.
Redmon also got footage of Wong shaking one of his employees by the shoulders, which didn’t make the final cut because the director didn’t want to humiliate the girl. Even so, Redmon said he didn’t want to portray the factory owner as the bad guy. “He saw it as his duty to run the factory the way he did,” Redmon said. “He’s very proud of owning the factories.” He couldn’t have done this before 1978, when China liberalized economic regulations.
The idea for the film came from Redmon’s research at TCU. He had published articles in academic journals and on, the web site of a group of anti-corporate artists, but through filmmaking he saw a chance to reach a wider audience. “It takes a month or two for people to read a 250-page book,” he said. “It takes them an hour or two to watch a film. There aren’t any book festivals, but there are film festivals.”
With a translator as his only crew member, Redmon had a relatively easy time shooting in China, though he did encounter a few hurdles, including getting temporarily kicked out of the country after a month for filming in a village without the proper licenses. After returning, he spent most of the time living in Wong’s factory along with the workers. Wong later sent him to some of his other factories. “I saw Happy Meal toys and Shrek dolls being made before the movie was even out,” he said. “It was amazing to see this whole process taking place. The bead factory operates year-round. They change colors for holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s, and so do the factories that make hats and shoes. There’s just whole sectors of China’s industry that are pegged to American holidays.”
The film screened at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and Redmon is now busy re-cutting it and transferring it to 35mm prints to be shown in movie theaters throughout the South. He hopes to enter it for Academy Awards consideration. Through it all, he’s still learning how to be a filmmaker. “Working all by myself is draining,” he said. “I have much more practical knowledge of how to organize and edit and raise money for my next film without exhausting myself.”

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