Fantastic Fest 2014 Review: DWARVES KINGDOM, A Surprisingly Balanced Exploration Of The World's Strangest Theme Park

Editor, U.S. ; Dallas, Texas (@HatefulJosh)
Fantastic Fest 2014 Review: DWARVES KINGDOM, A Surprisingly Balanced Exploration Of The World's Strangest Theme Park
I had never heard of the Kingdom of the Little People in Kunming, China before seeing Matthew Salton's documentary, Dwarves Kingdom. I'm hardly surprised that it exists, however. 

In this world of fake triple-breasted women, Crispin Hellion Glover films with casts made up entirely of actors with Down syndrome, and Twilight, nothing really surprises me anymore. What is a bit surprising is the remarkable amount of charm this film packs into what could be a rather dismal portrait of what has been remarked upon as a modern day freak show. However, through a remarkable number of balanced interviews with both proponents of the park and refuges from the park, Salton paints a fair and balanced picture that allows the viewer to draw his own conclusions.

First, a description. The Kingdom of the Little People was opened in 2009 by a businessman named Chen Mingjing. Mr. Chen insists that his main goal was to provide a refuge and jobs for little people who would otherwise struggle in the vast and super competitive Chinese job market. According to many of the several hundred inhabitants of the Kingdom, an unintended side effect has been a sense of community that most had never experienced. They were all used to being the only one of their kind in their immediate circle, but with their introduction to the Kingdom, some have found purpose, happiness, and even contentment among their peers even as they earn their livings essentially as performing freaks.

Most of the comments from the inhabitants are positive. They no longer feel alone, they feel as though they can contribute and become a part of something larger than themselves, they don't feel as though they are discriminated against. However, there are the odd refugees who've found the entire experience degrading, and have left Kunming in order to seek their fortunes in the outside world. The film follows one such woman who leaves what she considers, quite accurately, to be exploitation at the Kingdom, only to find that she relies on pity to make a living at a regular job. Is it a step up from her old job? It's left for the viewer to decide.

Dwarves Kingdom, in spite of its borderline lurid content, is a well-balanced, dare I say sweet documentary. Everyone is treated with respect, there are no "gotcha" moments, the park's benefactor, while surely exploiting his employees, doesn't seem to have any nefarious ulterior motives, and the dwarves themselves seem largely appreciative of the opportunity to have this community. 

Would they rather be out in the society at large making their way along with everyone else? The answer to that is likely yes. Would I feel horribly insensitive if given the opportunity to visit the park myself? Absolutely mortified. But, who am I to judge? 

Thankfully the director directs his gaze equally in all directions and invites the audience to judge for themselves, although I would be lying if I said I don't expect the images of a thousand choreographed little people dancing to Chinese pop songs to haunt my dreams for the immediate future.
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DocumentaryFantastic Fest 2014Matthew SaltonNews

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