In northeastern China the Songhua River flows west from the border of Russia to the city of Harbin, where four million people depend on it as a source of water. Songhua is a portrait of the varying people that gather where the river meets the city, and an ethnographic study of the intimate ways in which they play and work.
Through a series of interchanging and overlapping vignettes, filmmaker J.P. Sniadecki presents a full range of the river's value: from couples who fly kites or play cards by its shoreline, to fishermen who drag nets through its waters, to a vendor who relies on its attraction as a popular destination to sell his pinwheels. The river is a place containing multitudes, where a woman cleans up every single piece of trash along the bank, and a boy plays in the sand and drinks from a stagnant river pool littered with debris.
Filmed only one year after a major chemical spill (one of the largest river spills in recent years), Songhua is at once a tender record of interactions with the natural waterway, and a subtle, but dark consideration of the societal and environmental implications of the river's condition.
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