Jeanmarie sits near a flowing river bank and marvels at nature's ability to inspire a feeling of solidarity and balance. This mirrors the same soothing sense of purpose he brings to his work as a globe-trotting children's performer. Documentary The Dwarf in China follows him as he travels to remote regions of the Far East in hopes of creating a bridge between cultures through the practice of mythic storytelling.
Armed with a dwarf costume, a lovingly designed barrel organ, and various waterproof accessories, Jeanmarie journeys from his home in The Netherlands to the southwest town of Kunming, China. There, he joins forces with Frank, a foreign educator who has built a strong rapport with many members of the city's pre-school population. They're anxious to see how the students react to Jeanmarie's fairy tale concerning a dwarf and the hatching of a magical golden egg.
What they find is a city in transformation. The influence of the west is starting to take hold. Modern technologies are creeping in, McDonald's restaurants are being erected in the city's bustling epicenter, and it seems inevitable that the myths and customs of older generations will wither under the strain some day soon. They hope to preserve some of that history by exposing the children to a performance piece that celebrates a mystical connection to nature and other aspects of their cultural heritage.
The filmmakers take us through the painstaking preparations for the performance, which include the creation of a musical instrument programmed specifically to reflect Chinese tradition. We're allowed a peek into the creative process, and recognize Jeanmarie as someone who cares deeply about the integrity of his show, and undergoes tremendous personal sacrifice and financial risk to see it through. We come to understand the region, and the challenges that face the children who attend its overcrowded schools. Finally, we're given a front row seat at the big event as hundreds of eager children absorb every morsel of the show's musical and narrative content.
Joyful and entrancing, The Dwarf in China profiles a truly dedicated artist, and the transformative power of his creations.
Directed by: Ben Arend Reisman