DER Documentary

Treasure of the Lisu


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by Yan Chun Su
color, 30 min, 2010




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Treasure of the Lisu takes us into the world of Ah-Cheng, a master musician and tradition bearer of the Lisu minority people in southwest China. Originating in eastern Tibet, the Lisu people now live among the mountainous Nu (Salween) River canyon, an area caught between the ancient and the modern world.

As a skilled craftsman, Ah-Cheng is the only person in his village who can still make the Chiben, an emblematic four-string lute, which alongside the knife and the crossbow, are the three most important objects to the Lisu People. The British Protestants brought Christianity to the Lisu at the beginning of the 1900s. The Chiben, used widely in traditional religious gatherings, was considered a threat to the newly introduced religion and as a result, was banned from the church system.

The Communist revolution from 1967 brought an end to the missionary work. When China exited the repressive cultural revolution era in 1980, Christianity, which had always been practiced by many Lisu people in secrecy, returned to the public and spread even further.

As China develops further into the modern world, TV, cell phones, and new ideologies gradually penetrate into the idyllic lives of these mountain people. Being one of the last remaining tradition bearers of the Lisu people in his village, Ah-Cheng holds a vital role in the survival of his ethnic culture. Even though he is illiterate, he is able to keep a clear mind regarding what is important to Lisu cultural identity. Practicing all the essential traditions of the Lisus while still accepting Christianity, Ah-Cheng embodies the human capacity to embrace differences in the face of changes. Through intimate access to the daily life of three generations of Lisu people in Ah-Cheng's family, this documentary shows, with heart-felt compassion and humor, the effect of modernization and its implication on ethnic traditions.

Treasure of the Lisu, observational in style with no scripted narration, paints an intimate portrait of one family of an ethnic minority living in modern day China. It presents a world rarely seen by Westerners, a world that seems so faraway yet we will find the unexpected similarities striking. Inspiring a deeper observation, the film provokes viewers to contemplate the value of simple living and traditions that are worth preserving.


Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, 2012
Film Festival della Lessinia, Italy, 2011
Salt Lake City Film Festival, 2011
Park City Film Music Festival, 2011
Society for Visual Anthropology Film Festival, 2011
International Ethnographic Film Festival of Quebec, 2011
Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival, NY, 2011
Athens International Film + Video Festival, OH, 2011
RAI International Festival of Ethnographic Film, UK, 2011
Banff Mountain Film Festival, Canada, 2010
Society for Ethnomusicology Annual Conference, Mexico, 2009 (work-in-progress)

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