Cinematographer Feixue Tang explores immigration issues in US with award-winning documentary

A good movie doesn’t just tell a good story. It transports audiences out of their seats and into a different world, travelling through time, worlds, and dimensions and immersing viewers in a captivating and cathartic experience for a couple of hours. Doing so, however, is an all-encompassing task, taking the work of several visionaries to create something special. The visual aspect of a film is fifty percent of the experience, and a cinematographer need to be an artist as well as a technician. China’s Feixue Tang knows this better than most.

Tang is an in-demand cinematographer in her home country of China and abroad, best known for her work on award-winning films like Here & Beyond, Who We Are, and The Elephant in the Room. She has an unparalleled passion for her craft, and a way of knowing just how to visually tell a story.

Tang has a knack for the documentary genre, which audiences around the world can see in her film Lumpkin, GA. Documenting the stories of a fading southern town with a massive immigrant detention center down the road, the film is a mosaic of life in the middle of America's immigration crackdown. 

“I think the film is important and worth reaching a broader audience because it has touched social issues but yet it’s not an activism film or anything like that. It’s taking a very humanistic gaze on the people who are living their everyday lives and trying their best to understand and empathize. I think that perspective is really the most valuable and important thing of the film and by understanding and empathizing, we can take away more stigmas and judgements and start a conversation,” said Tang.
When Director Nicholas Manting Brewer showed Tang of map of Lumpkin, Georgia, a small rural town with a large immigration detention facility as its neighbor, they knew there was a story to tell. The image was captivating and intriguing in itself, and they wanted to learn more.

Tang began to immerse herself in the United States immigration debate when she started working on the film. She wanted the film to be an unbiased look at the detention center and the town. She started with reading and doing research on the issue. She and Brewer decided on a general artistic approach to this documentary, almost like drawing a cinematic portrait of the small Georgia town and also the Immigration Detention Center beside it. Lumpkin is not the most prosperous town. It doesn’t have a large population, not much business nor industrial aspects going on there. Yet right outside the town there’s this thoroughly guarded and well-maintained private prison with a population of almost 2000 detainees. Therefore, capturing the visual traits of this contrast became a huge part of the visual design of the film. Tang treated the town itself as a very important visual component of the film as well as the prison. The film features a lot of extreme close ups of the buildings in Lumpkin, like the rusted locks on the gates, the paint on the doors and bricks, and they really utilized those shots to bring out the texture and atmosphere of the picture.

“I have never been to the South before shooting this documentary. The whole experience was new and full of discoveries for me. We flew multiple times from LA to Georgia and each time we went back to Lumpkin we were digging in more with deeper understandings and new paths laid out for us. It was a priceless and very valuable experience for me as a cinematographer and as an artist in general,” said Tang.

Tang’s hard work and dedication to the film paid off, as Lumpkin, GA has had a tremendous film festival run thus far. It has been an Official Selection at over eight prestigious festivals around the world, and took home the Audience and Jury Award at the Small Axe at Tolpuddle Radical Film Festival. Tang herself was also recognized for her efforts and was a finalist for Best Cinematography of a Documentary Short Film at the Asian Cinematography Awards. It also aired on PBS nationwide earlier this year.

“Seeing the film do so great is very rewarding because we were very honest and sincere while making this film and also as always being respectful. It’s the values I believe in and I’m happy to see it leads to good work as well. It brings out the questions of modern America who is facing certain economic crisis in certain areas and also the changing scene of the immigration detention system,” said Tang.

Lumpkin, GA will be screening at several more festivals across the country throughout the year, so be sure to watch it when it is playing near you. It sounds like a can’t miss.

By Annabelle Lee
Aug. 19th, 2019

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