Where Forgotten Films Dwell

Welcome to this site! It exists for one reason: to preserve the memory of films that have been forgotten about or under-appreciated throughout the ages. Take a seat, read an entry, leave a comment. You might discover your new favorite movie!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Update: No Review This Week + Storytime

Alas, my dear readers, I cannot do a review this week.  I'm still busy getting settled into my new life at New York University Tisch.

But I don't want to leave you all empty handed two weeks in a row.  So...I have a story to share.

This is a TRUE STORY.

I live in a suite right on the corner of Washington Square in New York City.  As such, I have a roommate.  This roommate is a young computer programmer from Southern China.  I won't mention his name because he hasn't given me permission to do so online.  Anyhow, for the last few days, I've been trying to establish some common ground with my new roommate.  However, due to the language barrier, this has been difficult.

But tonight I made a breakthrough. 

It turns out that he loves movies, too.  He discovered this blog when he was researching me after we were assigned the same room.  He remarked that he was astonished that I had written about Jiang Wen's film Devils on the Doorstep.  He was amazed because that film is banned in China. 

He asked me how I saw the film.  I answered that I had seen it on Netflix.  He had never heard of the site and wanted to know what it was.  I showed him the site, explained how it was basically a giant movie library.  He was astonished.  Many of the films on Netflix are still banned in China.

For those of you who don't know, China has INSANE restrictions on foreign films shown inside their borders.  Incredibly, only TWENTY foreign films are allowed to be shown in China each year.  Think about that for a second.  The average American probably sees twenty or so films a year at the movie theater.  Even then, that's only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the number of movies that come out in the US alone.  Not only are foreign films nearly impossible to get a hold of in China, many films are outright banned by the government.  These banned films include, I kid you not:

-A.I. - Artificial Intelligence
-Back to the Future
-Brokeback Mountain
-The Dark Knight
-The Departed
-Memoirs of a Geisha
-Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
-And many, many other Chinese films that have fallen out of favor with the government

And yet, right before my roommate's eyes, I was showing him a site where he could watch all of these films.  Even more incredible to my roommate was that this was legal.  He asked me if you got in trouble for watching these films.  I told him the truth.  "No, it's perfectly legal."  My roommate was amazed.  He told me that in China if you wanted to watch something non-approved by the government, you had to download it.  And in China, with their massive agencies designed to keep a close eye on their citizens' internet activities, doing so could get oneself into serious trouble with the law.  So naturally he was suspicious and wary of a site with so many banned films. 

Then he asked me a strange question: "Don't they ban films in America?"  I paused for a second.  I wondered what I should say.  Then I decided, once again, on telling the truth.  "Not really.  The federal government can't officially ban a film in this country.  Some local governments can, but I can't think of any instances when a movie has been banned by federal law."

Upon hearing my answer, my roommate lowered his head, dropped his eyes to the ground, and said in a half whisper, "That's because America is a free country."

As I write this, my roommate is busy setting up his own Netflix account.  I have provided him with a list of great films that I thought that he might enjoy and may never get to see in China.  This was one of the first times in my life that I understood just how powerful and meaningful my country's freedoms are.  Folks, I'm proud to be an American.  I'm proud to live in a country where men and women have given their lives in order to protect my Freedom of Speech.  It might sound cheesy, but I really do.  And, of course, I recognize the brave men and women who have also given their lives to protect basic human rights in other countries.  In the Western world, it's so easy to take our freedoms for granted. 

So be thankful, folks.  Be thankful that we live in a part of the world where information is free for the taking.  For there are many, many people, just like my roommate, who live in places where it is not.

Nathanael Hood


  1. Congratulations for being born where you were!!

  2. You're right, we often do take our freedoms for granted. Every now-and-then, we just need a little reminder of what we have. Thanks for that reminder.

  3. The average American probably sees twenty or so films a year at the movie theater.

    I doubt that. Maybe devoted film buffs like us would. But most ordinary people I know don't visit theaters more than a few times a year because of high ticket prices and cheaper alternatives.

    Thanks for sharing us that story. By censoring so many foreign films, China's government is neglecting a chance to improve their entertainment business market. The time and money that could be spent to stimulate their economy is instead spent on piracy which doesn't help anyone. They're either too ignorant to understand this or they just don't care. It hurts the national business too because many of the popular piracy web sites are based in China and thus are difficult to extinguish.

    Is your roommate planning to obtain U.S. citizenship someday or is he here just for the education?

  4. Thanks for sharing your story. I remember hearing how China was cracking down on movies and TV shows about time travel and thinking it was silly bu this is a reminder of the seriousness of the situation. If that stuff gets banned/censored, then a lot must be banned and censored.
    Film and censorship is an interesting topic. If your roommate is interested he might want to read these overviews about the issue:

  5. @Ian

    I'm not sure. I don't think that it'd be right to ask him so early in our friendship.

  6. I had a roommate in college who had come over from China 5-7 years earlier, but wasn't a citizen. I never had such a dramatic moment as you did. You're lucky. He did watch American movies, but after The Devil's Advocate, he wanted me to explain the concept of free will in Christianity. That was interesting and frustrating.

    However, I feel sorry that you are rooming with a computer programmer. We are the crazy folks.

  7. A wonderful and eye-opening post, Nat. Thanks for sharing your experience. Here in the west we do sometimes take our freedoms for granted. I am proud to be an American as well.

  8. What you wrote should be posted on every blog regardless of blog genre. I'm Canadian, and your post made me proud to be Canadian. Not only do we have the right to see what we want to see, we can carp and whine about it to.

  9. This Canadian gals' biggest gripe is when TCM Canada doesn't run the early Laurel & Hardy shorts due to licensing issues. I've got it easy, and I don't always take the time to appreciate it.

    We think the world is shrinking in this computer age, but it is truly vast and we have a lot to learn about others, and a lot we take for granted.

  10. Tom

    That's a right that EVERYONE should have.

  11. Great and revealing post Nathanael. Thanks for sharing and despite all the problems here in this country we should all be grateful for where we live and the freedom we have to disagree.