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‘The Last Year of Darkness’ portrays an alternative coming-of-age story in Chengdu

The 'Chengdu nightlife film' is headed to International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam this week

  • Miki Kitasako
  • 7 November 2023
‘The Last Year of Darkness’ portrays an alternative coming-of-age story in Chengdu

Take a glimpse into the underground scene of Chengdu as ‘The Last Year of Darkness’ explores the alternative lifestyles of a young group of creative souls living in the city.

The film shows five friends gathering in the darkness of the underground party spots of Chengdu, living out their days as if their last. These safe havens provide a space where they’re able to lose themselves over plum wine (梅子酒) while dancing the night away to heavy techno beats.

These free-spirited young adults venture out through hardships as their drunken nights give way to a new chapter of their lives, which speaks volumes in the film’s tagline: “From throwing up to growing up”.

Director Ben Mullinkosson started all of this in a club called Funkytown as he was drinking with his friend, Yihao — a drag performer. From there, after five years of on-and-off filming, ‘The Last Year of Darkness’ was born.

Cast members include Kimberly, a DJ/musician who runs a label in Chengdu called Charlie’s Angels; 647, a hip hop DJ, skater and actor from Mongolia; Gennady Baranov from Saint Petersburg who is a DJ, skater, model, actor and photographer; and Darkle, a resident DJ of .TAG who is also a co-founder of Charlie’s Angels.

Along with Ben, there are also three producers that are part of the film — Sol Ye, Sam Intili and Anita Gou.

“We made the movie because we love Chengdu and wanted to share our love with the world. SPREADING LOVE,” explains Ben.

Funkytown is known in Chengdu as a space for those who don’t quite fit into the city’s conventional Chinese communities; a place where individuals can temporarily live freely. This underground techno scene has sprouted a nightlife hub that has a moody lens seen throughout the film’s cinematography.

As the cast explore life in their 20s, the film showcases their resilience towards those who aren’t understood by society and the status quo in China.

Read this next: “A local culture created”: How the pandemic connected China’s club scene

The film is also an avenue for those outsiders looking in with stereotypical glasses of those in China or the country itself. “We want to show Western audiences how amazing my friends are in Chengdu and say 'fuck you' to oversimplified ideas of ‘China’ that my American friends and family read in the mainstream media. The film is really a celebration of life — a life that sometimes is best celebrated in darkness,” Ben adds.

Earlier this year, Mubi acquired the film and it had its world premiere at CPH:DOX with a special jury mention. It was also screened at Queer Lisboa, Athens International Film Festival, Visions du Réel, Camden International Film Festival and now the film is about to be previewed at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam this week.

Last month Ben and his team ran a Kickstarter campaign to get them over to Amsterdam for the festival. They'll be headed there this week and will also be performing a gig on November 11 at Kanaal40 which has sold out.

Read this next: Behind the lens: a glimpse of Chengdu's unabashed underground scene

Speaking to Mixmag Asia about the upcoming gig, Ben mentions: “So the event at Kanaal 40 is really special and I want to say something about it. First of all, the roles are reversed. The protagonists of the film become like a film editor who is in control of pacing and rhythm, and the editor of the film becomes the protagonist on stage mixing visuals. So instead of watching a performance or a movie, you are dancing to it. A live party movie screening, it’s going to be unforgettable.”

Check out the trailer of the film ‘The Last Year of Darkness’ below.

Miki Kitasako is Mixmag Asia’s Social Media and Content Producer, follow her on LinkedIn.

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