Under the Dome: Trying To Save This Whole System We Call Home
Giving new breadth to the term “viral,” last weekend up to 200 million people in China watched “Under the Dome,” a new, deeply personal, meticulously researched, self-funded for just $160,000 documentary about China’s calamitous pollution problem, which on its worst “airpocalypse” days is said to resemble an airport smoking lounge. The film by former news anchor and environmental journalist Chai Jing has been called “one of the most important pieces of public awareness of all time” for China, and in its potential impact has been compared to Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” in this country and, later, Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” It was released on the eve of China’s annual meeting of the National People’s Congress in Beijing, which will set government policies on a range of issues.
Jing, 39, began working on the film for personal reasons: She was pregnant with her first child, who was found to have a tumor. Though she had never before been afraid of the pollution around her in smog-blanketed Beijing or her native coal-choked region, she says, “when you carry a life in you, you feel the fear.” She went on to do extensive research, assembling statistics on the estimated 600 million people suffering from asthma, heart disease, strokes and other ailments likely caused by environmental factors, travelling around the country to interview experts, workers, doctors – filming, at one point, the removal of a cancerous lung – and visiting particularly polluted sites like the northeastern city of Harbin, with pollutant levels many times those considered hazardous. Jing found, and hopes to capitalize on what she calls a basic “social consensus” – that we all need air. “This,” she says hopefully, “is how history will be made.” To date, China’s famously restrictive state media has been startlingly supportive of her message; experts say their openness may or may not last. You can watch the film in Mandarin with English sub-titles here, or watch its dramatic start and final call to action, with middle portions summarized, here.