“XMAS WITHOUT CHINA”
Two families living worlds apart in the same community come together in Alicia Dwyer’s “Xmas Without China”. Chinese immigrant Tom Xia challenges the Jones family to celebrate Christmas without any Chinese products. Fed up with toy and food recalls, the Jones family accepts the consumer mission-impossible and is drawn into a surprising intercultural exchange with the Xia family. As the Joneses deal with the tremendous influence of China in their lives and Tom struggles to get beyond the stereotypes, he realizes that he has begun a journey to understand the complexities of his own divided loyalties between the U.S. and China.
The difficulty of avoiding products from China is a near impossibility today. Looking at the tags on the products around us reminds us that most of the electronics we’re using have at least have components made in China.
Manufacturing in China is kind of a hub for any discussion about the nature of globalization. There are different ways to look at it: the ecological impact (e.g., pollution, particularly from coal), the ethical concerns (e.g., the Apple/Foxconn factory issue), and the economic realities of the 21st century (e.g., the rise of the Chinese middle class).
What Alicia Dwyer does here is provide other unique ways to approach the matter, though at a micro level and through the interaction between strangers who get to know each other through different and odd circumstances. It all starts with a challenge: go the month of December (including Christmas) without buying or using any products made in China.
If we stop to imagine that we were immigrants from China living in the states right around the time when toys and food products were being recalled due to the discovery of lead paint and other hazardous material in the products, we would most certainly be annoyed. Tom Xia was annoyed and rightly so about all the China bashing and so he decided to conduct an experiment—he decided to challenge his suburban American neighbors to see if they could survive the Christmas season (Dec. 1 to Dec. 25) without ANY Chinese products. In Alicia Dwyer’s documentary, we discover if the Joneses have the wherewithal to accomplish this seemingly impossible consumer diet.
The film begins with Tom defending China and coming up with this idea to challenge his community. We see him talking to some hardcore Americans who give the idea a thought and then deny the challenge. What makes it more difficult is that he isn’t offering any money as an incentive but eventually he meets the Joneses and they could not have been a better find. The husband Tom is a musician and the wife Evelyn is a schoolteacher and they have two young children, a son and a daughter and a dog, a cat and a couple of ducks.
Things get started and it’s amazing to see how many of the items in the house are taken because they were “made in China.” Items like the light bulbs, the coffee maker, the X-box and more have to be put in the storage container outside their house, leaving them living by candlelight. Tim tells his father, Victor, that “all the kids’ toys are gone and so are their plates. They have to eat off paper plates. Due to a lack of understanding about the Christmas season, Tom later begins to question the challenge further when Victor says to him that Christmas is American’s favorite holiday and that he shouldn’t ruin it for them.
As the days go on and things start to get tougher, we begin to feel bad for the Joneses. Evelyn is finding it really hard and Tom is having trouble coping without his X-Box, his distraction from the memory of his mother’s passing during Christmas time a year ago. Throughout the film we see the evolution of both Tom and the Joneses perception of the challenge change. Tom’s father tells him that the Christmas season might not have been the best time to challenge people to do this.
The challenge of not using Chinese products is the focal point of the film but the film also looks at Tom’s family and his parent’s mission of achieving the American dream. Even though he moved to the states at the age of eight, Tom never actually applied to get his citizenship so even though he’s more American than his parents; he’s the only one of the three who technically isn’t and at one point he lies about being a citizen by later admits that he lied. I think that the fascination with the film is that while we witness the Xia’s American dream becoming reality, we witness the demise of the Jones family’s American dream.
This is not the most exciting or compelling documentary, but the idea is brilliant and is something that should be explored further. The thesis is a bit strange in that to do what the film says is economically impossible ands we know that.
Domestically made products are extremely expensive and tough to hunt down, so is this a truly great idea in the first place? With an economy that is slowly making a return to form, the purchase and support of domestic products is important and influential within the grand scheme of the US economy, but it’s not something most US households can totally commit to.
The viewer is shown how difficult it truly is, and with beautiful photography and direction, and it is in the moments of difficulty or introspection that the film is at its best.
After its world premiere at South by Southwest in 2013, the film was nationally broadcast on PBS and went on to become a festival favorite, showing in 13 festivals so far, and is now finally coming to DVD and VOD!
World Premiere, South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival
Film Society of Lincoln Center – Green Screen Series
Friars Club Comedy Film Festival – “Best Comedy” Award
Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival – People’s Choice Award
Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival – Best Environmental Theme Award
Edmonton International Film Festival
Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
Mountain Film Festival, Telluride and Aspen