In the remote mountain villages of Yunyang district, Shiyan city in Central China’s Hubei province, a team of female projectionists is working hard to bring the magic of movies to rural residents. Each person in the group is responsible for a specific area, ensuring that every village has the opportunity to watch movies once a month. Since the group’s inception in 2007, the number of movie screenings has exceeded 45,000, benefiting all the villages in the district.
As the sun begins to set, villagers arrive at a small square, carrying their own stools, ready for the open-air film screening. The serenity of the evening is pierced by a loudspeaker broadcasting the message that the movie is about to start. While watching movies, they crack and eat melon seeds and discuss the plot with each other, making for a lively scene.
Villagers prefer feature films, particularly those with a revolutionary theme, police and gangster movies, comedies and traditional operas. Prior to organizing the movie screenings, the projectionists solicit opinions from villagers to create a movie list and then post the detailed information on a board as a public notice.
Some elderly people like to watch films but have mobility issues, so the team visits their houses to give them personal movie screenings. The projectionists have to move equipment, erect the big screen, connect the power supply, set up the sound system and adjust the projector. At the interval between the two movies, they routinely show a short educational film, with subjects ranging from traffic safety and telecom fraud to fire prevention.
“I particularly enjoy watching war movies. They remind me of my old comrades, making me cherish my current happy life even more,” says villager and retired soldier Ming Tingmao. It’s a regular entertainment for rural dwellers in the area.
The group was formed by the district’s film distribution and exhibition corporation in response to the nation’s call of “bringing culture to the countryside.” The female projectionists travel to remote mountainous areas to show movies to rural residents.
“I’ve traveled to many places and interacted with various people, and I could never have had such an experience in the city. I’m proud that what I bring to the villagers is nourishment for the mind, enriching their leisure time and lives,” says Xiong Yan, who joined the team when it was founded. Formerly a projectionist at a cinema in the city, she notes that the difference between her old job and her current calling is that, while showing outdoor movies in the rural areas, she can interact directly with the audience and observe their immediate reactions up close.
“My colleagues and I had grown up in the city and were not accustomed to the rural environment at first. Now we have become strong, capable women who can lift the 50 kilograms of equipment off the vehicle on our own,” she says. She has learned how to identify different farm crops and also helps villagers do farm work, such as digging up peanut plants and harvesting wheat.
The team’s annual work cycle runs from March to early October, due to safety concerns. In the other months, the weather in the mountainous areas is cold, making the road slippery and dangerous to travel on. Despite the challenges they face, the team of female projectionists is committed to bringing entertainment and culture to the rural areas.
Traffic used to be a major challenge for Xiong, a projectionist who travels to remote villages to show movies. In the past, she had to trek over mountains to reach these remote areas. It was physically demanding and time-consuming. However, things changed significantly for Xiong in 2020 when she bought a car for both safety and convenience. The car made it easier for her to transport herself and her equipment.
Before buying a car, Xiong used to ride a motorcycle along rough mountain paths, carrying her own clothing and other daily essentials. At the same time, she had to put the equipment, including a projector and a large screen, on a bus and fetch it at the final stop in Baoxia. The town was over 70 kilometers from her home and would take over two hours by bus before the construction of the highway. There were only a few scheduled buses, meaning that she often had to wait for a long time.
Xiong has to visit all villages of the town within a year and stays in a village for about three days before moving on to the next one. It’s physically demanding to transport the heavy equipment between villages. However, the economic condition of these rural areas has greatly improved in recent years, and the village head will often send a car to carry the equipment to the town. Before that, she had to pay a taxi service or seek help from villagers.
In 2012, Xiong faced a difficult situation when she went to a remote village. The equipment was transported up the rough, winding hillside track on the back of a mule. After heavy rainfall, a large rock blocked the way. The villagers were all elderly people, and they were grateful that Xiong overcame the obstacles and made it to the village to show movies for them.
Six years later, when Xiong returned to the village, she was amazed to find a cement road had been laid. The villagers had been relocated to more convenient homes, and many young people had become comfortably well-off through hard work in the cities. This was a significant change, and it made it easier for Xiong to visit the village with her equipment.
The transformation of the village from a remote, difficult-to-reach location to a more convenient place is an example of how infrastructure development can improve the lives of rural communities. With better roads and modern transportation systems, remote areas become more accessible, and people can access better services and opportunities.
Xiong’s experience is a reminder of the challenges that people in remote areas face in accessing basic services such as healthcare and education. The work that Xiong does in these communities is essential as it provides entertainment and educational opportunities for people who might not otherwise have access to them.
In conclusion, Xiong’s experience highlights the importance of infrastructure development in remote areas. The car that Xiong bought in 2020 made it easier for her to transport herself and her equipment, and it is an example of how modern transportation systems can improve people’s lives. It is also a reminder of the challenges that people in remote areas face in accessing basic services, and the importance of providing entertainment and educational opportunities to these communities.
Xiong, the female projectionist, has seen significant changes in the living conditions of the villagers during her travels. She attributes this to national policies such as targeted poverty alleviation and improved road conditions. She travels to different villages, staying overnight with the villagers, and only returns home once a month.
In the past, the villagers lived in old, dilapidated cottages that lacked modern amenities such as hot water for showering. However, in recent years, they have moved into new houses equipped with solar water heaters and other household appliances. Xiong has witnessed the remarkable transformation of the living conditions of these people and is happy about it.
The villagers have always been welcoming to Xiong, and even when they were poor, they offered her the best local specialties and hospitality. Xiong cherishes these moments and appreciates their kindness.
Hu Qin, who joined Xiong’s team in 2013, also shares similar experiences. She remembers a time in 2019 when she was three months pregnant and was in charge of showing movies in a village. During her stay, the wife of the village head found out about her pregnancy and started cooking different dishes made with eggs laid by their hens, which are known for their high nutritional value for pregnant women. She also helped Hu with her work and provided her with milk and cakes when she left the village.
To continue her work, Hu brought nutritional supplements with her every time she went to the countryside. She continued working up until two months before she gave birth to her son, at which point she passed on her duties to another projectionist.
The kindness and hospitality shown to Xiong and Hu by the villagers are a testament to their spirit of generosity and community. The improvements in living conditions are a result of the government’s policies and investments in infrastructure, education, and healthcare. Xiong and her team continue to travel to remote villages, bringing entertainment and joy to the people while witnessing the positive changes in their lives.
Color television sets did not become widespread in China until the late 1980s. Prior to this, watching open-air movies was a popular form of entertainment in rural areas. Crowds of people would finish their work early and eagerly gather together to wait for the projectionist to show the movie. Although it’s more convenient to watch movies on television or smartphones now, many elderly people feel nostalgic about the past and enjoy the social aspect of watching open-air movies with others, according to Hu. She has spoken to people who used to trek for hours over mountains at night just to watch a movie. Hu recalls showing a revolution-themed movie when a 90-year-old man told her he was a Red Army soldier and shared stories of hardship during wartime, even showing a scar on his leg caused by a bullet. Hu says she is encouraged by the villagers’ enthusiasm and support, and they often contact her to ask about the next screening.