February 9, 2011

Cinema as cultural ambassador

Derry Chinese School Principal Aloe Rioux of Nashua demonstrates a traditional
conditioning routine with a Taiji Sword, used in Chinese martial arts.
Union Leader Correspondent
Derry Chinese School student
Mark McCormack, left, and wife Janet.
DERRY -- Just when you thought there was nothing fun to do until the big President’s Day sale on bath towels next weekend, turns out you can learn something about a fascinating culture while ringing in the Chinese lunar new year, courtesy of the Derry Chinese School, which is hosting its monthly Chinese movie night on Thursday at the Derry Public Library.
And nothing says Happy 4709, the Year of the Golden Rabbit, like a bowl of popcorn and a good Chinese film. This month’s selection, “To Live,” based on a novel by the same name, explores the struggles of a poor family as they endure the Communist regime and live through the Chinese cultural revolution of the 1960s, only to find meaning in the journey.
For a guy like Mike McCormack, 55, of Derry, a student of the Chinese school who suggested the monthly movie series, there’s no better way to begin to understand the life and culture of the Chinese people than through a well-crafted cinematic journey, starting with this award­-
winning film. 

“My wife is Chinese, and so I started going to the Chinese School because I wanted to learn the language. Actually, I wanted to know what my in-laws were saying about me, too,” said McCormack, who admits he’s a long way from understanding the nuances of his wife’s native language, and what his mother-in-law really thinks of him. 
All joking aside, McCormack said his language lessons, while slow going, have actually made it possible for him to interact with people in China, where he and his wife have traveled together several times since marrying six years ago. 
“A lot of people have misunderstandings about China. But when you go there, you find the people are really friendly. I’d say they’re probably more friendly toward Americans than most people are in other countries — you know, you always hear how the French or the Canadians aren’t always happy when Americans visit,” McCormack said. “It’s not like that in China.” 
Given the intricate economic and political relationship between China and the U.S., and the growing number of people who travel between the two countries — including high school students from around New Hampshire — there is value in getting past the misconceptions and stereotypes, and learning that the human experience translates across all cultures, whether you speak English or Mandarin. 
“I’ve come to love Chinese films — I have quite a collection, which is one reason why I thought the film series was a good idea. You really can’t find these movies here easily — and there are a lot of them. They aren’t the kung-fu variety, either. This one, ‘To Live,’ was directed by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, who was the same guy who put together the opening ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics in 2008,” McCormack said. 
In fact, Zhang was banned by the government from making films for two years after “To Live,” because of its portrayal of such a controversial period of Chinese history. 
McCormack’s wife, Janet, grew up in China during the Chinese revolution, leaving for the U.S. 15 years ago to attend school. 
“The Communists don’t want to teach their people the history of China because it’s too sensitive — it makes the Communist Party look bad. But the movie really helps you see and understand what the Chinese people have endured,” Mc-Cormack said. 
Derry Chinese School meets regularly at the Marion Gerrish Center on West Broadway. Chinese movie night, held the second Thursday of each month, begins at 6 p.m. at the Derry Public Library. Popcorn will be served. For more information, contact Principal Aloe Rioux at principal@derrychin eseschool.org. 

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