Miao Wang, the director of MdFF 2010’s Beijing Taxi, returns with another meditative and beautifully composed exploration of contemporary socioeconomic issues in China. Maineland opens on a series of interviews conducted between young teenage Chinese students and admission boards for American boarding academies. We learn that since the U.S. economic crisis, U.S. private schools have aggressively courted foreign students, with many coming from China’s new wealthy elite.
The film finds its center in two very different students, extroverted Stella and philosophically minded Harry, and the Fryeburg Academy in Maine, where they both land. Both pupils aspire to a Western ideal: Stella seeking the Hollywood experience of the American high school à la cheerleading, dance, and cute boys; Harry in search of a freer form of critical thinking he associates with America. But culture shock proves sharp for both students, landing in a small-town New England school very different than their images of U.S. life. Will they find the American experience they’re looking for in Fryeburg?
Following these students from admisison interviews to graduation, Maineland offers us the chance to get to know two very different Chinese teenagers at a very specific moment for both themselves and their home country. With mesmerizing cinematography from Sean Price Williams and sensitive direction from Wang that’s at once poetic and journalistic, Maineland delivers both a loving coming-of-age portrait and the rare opportunity to see our own country through another culture’s eyes. (Eric Allen Hatch)