On Friday, November 18th, NYU Shanghai students and faculty gathered in the auditorium for a screening of Jessica Kingdon’s award-winning documentary “Ascension.” The film was introduced by Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, Dr. Travis Klingberg, and concluded with a discussion moderated by Visiting Professor Dr. Silvia Linder and Co-Producer Maggie Li.

Ascension features footage that documents the daily life of laborers within China’s ever-growing industrial society. From the assembly line to consumers’ lives, “Ascension” provides a humanistic perspective of the Chinese industrial complex. Through her film, Kingdon lets these scenes of daily life speak for themselves, allowing viewers to contemplate the literal and social costs of maintaining society. 

The discussion after the screening was kicked off by Dr. Silvia Linder, who mentioned that the documentary was “highly impactful on multiple layers,” and appreciated the spotlight on factory workers as they are usually “left out” of the discussion. Maggie added that one of the film’s intentions is to place emphasis on the supply chain and highlight the idea of industrialization, which is not exclusive to China, but that no person or country can escape capitalism. 

Asked about the purpose of the numerous factory shots in the film, Maggie Li explained that they provide a different perspective on modern industries than what we traditionally imagine. Multiple scenes included workers making small talk, which Li cited as an important aspect that let her humanize these laborers in an industry working to dehumanize them. As a self-described observational film, “Ascension” does not intend to sway its viewers in any certain direction and Li commented that she enjoys listening to different people’s reactions to the film since they often interpret it differently.  

Overall, both the film and the fruitful discussion allowed for an intense reflection on the place that we occupy within society. I recommend to, if you have not already, watch this film yourself and come up with your own interpretation. 

“Hand on my sword, I ascend the tower. I gaze afar, hoping to relieve my worries. The tower is too high to climb; instead, my troubles only grow.”
(The caption to the quote) Closing quote from the film titled: “Ascension” (Chinese: 登楼叹), a poem written by Jessica Kingon’s great-grandfather Zheng Ze (Chinese:郑泽) in 1902.