'Better Angels' documentary illustrates importance of 'accidental diplomats'

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People-to-people exchanges between China and the United States contribute to better mutual understanding between the world's two largest economies, a U.S. documentary producer has said.

"Public opinion is the core infrastructure of China-U.S. relations," William Mundell, producer of "Better Angels," a feature documentary on the China-U.S. bilateral relationship, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

Besides traditional ways, Mundell believes film is another efficient method to foster exchanges between the two nations.

The film "Better Angels" was screened at Rice University's campus in Houston, the U.S. state of Texas on Thursday. It focuses on ordinary people -- referred to as "accidental diplomats" -- who build cultural and economic bridges between the United States and China.

"Personal stories are the ones that create a true emotional impact, and that is what is necessary to really change people's minds," he said.

Mundell shared his insights during a panel discussion after the film screening, saying that the U.S.-China relationship is the most important bilateral relationship in the world, and people from both countries should engage in cross-cultural cooperation.

Besides building trust at the cross-national level, Mundell wants it to "happen on a people-to-people basis." He hopes these "accidental diplomats," such as a former U.S. marine from Texas who teaches Chinese children English and coaches football in Shanghai, and a Chinese teacher who helps American children learn math using an abacus, will break stereotypes and dispel misconceptions that citizens of both nations have about each other.

"I do want to motivate more people to tell their personal stories of U.S.-China cooperation," he said, anticipating the interaction will help strengthen their trust in the cross-cultural relationship.

Chen Ye, a Chinese actress in the historical drama film "The Burning of the Imperial Palace," said something similar at the panel discussion.

"Communication between people from both backgrounds is very important. Most Americans think China is mysterious. But when you meet Chinese people and enter their lives, you will learn something different," she said.

Sunny Zhang, an associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, who also attended the screening as a panelist, found the film interesting because it features stories about Chinese and Americans who are seeking opportunities in both nations.

"I'm impressed by the width and depth of the film," she said.

One story in the film is about two long-term unemployed women who found jobs at a Chinese copper plant in Wilcox County, Alabama, which hasn't drawn any investments in the past 45 years. The Chinese investors have created 300 jobs.

Even though these stories took place in America's heartland or the other side of the world like Africa, this documentary makes China appear less remote and more relatable, Zhang said.

"These personal stories bring people closer," she said. "Just like doing business, on the surface, it seems about two companies making transactions with each other, but ultimately, it's the human relations that make deals happen."

Likewise, Zhang said that the film presents a series of short stories about "Better Angels" in the global perspective by highlighting a Chinese company expanding their projects in Ethiopia.

"Better Angels" has received positive responses from both Chinese and American viewers. The movie trailer received over 3 million views on Facebook, Mundell said.

Claire Logue, who saw the documentary, regards the film as an eye-opener. "We are secluded in our own perceptions of what's around us. Hearing things from different parts of the world is very enlightening and insightful," she told Xinhua.

Logue said she would recommend the film to everyone who is interested in China-U.S. ties. "It perfectly exemplified the relationship we need to be having between the two countries," she added.

Megan Botha, another viewer, thinks the film represents the way both peoples engage with each other.

"The Chinese community is embracing parts of the American culture. I think we should all take an active role in fostering Chinese culture as well," she said.

When illustrating the goal of the documentary, Mundell said, "What we are trying to convey in the film is to let people try harder (to communicate) and trust each other. That way we will achieve the true potential of the China-U.S. relationship."

"Better Angels" is a 92-minute theatrical documentary directed by award-winning director Malcolm Clarke and produced by Mundell and award-winning Chinese producer Han Yi.

Mundell said "Better Angels" will be released on 9,200 screens in China after the opening week of the Beijing International Film Festival on April 13-20, followed by a North American release.

"In the U.S., we plan a grassroots campaign at the universities followed by a release in the 60 largest U.S. markets," he said. 

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