THE MOSUO SISTERS is a tale of two sisters living in the shadow of two Chinas. Juma and Latso, young women from one of the world’s last remaining matriarchal societies, are thrust into the worldwide economic downturn when they lose their jobs in Beijing. Left with few options, they return home to their remote village in the foothills of the Himalayas. But home is no longer what it was, as growing exposure to the modern world irreparably alters the provocative traditions of the Mosuo. Determined to keep their family out of poverty, one sister sacrifices her dream of an education and stays home to farm, while the other leaves to try her luck in city—changes in fortune that test each sister in unexpected ways. Ultimately, though, it’s the sisters’ relationship with one another that hangs in the balance as they struggle to navigate the vast cultural and economic divides that define contemporary China.
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I consider myself a portraitist. Crafting a telling story about a person or a people is what drew me to filmmaking. The moving image moves me because of its ability to depict life in all its immediate, vibrant unpredictability. As a filmmaker, I’m attracted to stories of people who change over time, and to the singular un-likeliness of lived life. But a portrait holds more than a person’s likeness, because a life is composed of more than itself. The storytelling I’m drawn to not only illuminates a subject, it also depicts the world that shapes that subject into something worthy of attention—in other words, something moving. My last film, Run Granny Run, was in essence a story about contemporary politics in America told through the prism of the life and times of a ninety-four year old hell-raising activist. I hope my new film, The Mosuo Sisters, feels the same way: that in offering a window into the lives of two sisters trying to survive within the parallel universes that exist side by side in China today, a larger story about the push and pull of history and the future, of tradition and modernity, of family and the self in modern China will emerge. In the process, I hope to draw viewers into a world they might not have known or cared about otherwise and to help them connect with the contradictions that are both specific to the film’s subjects and present in all our lives as we experience the growing pains of progress and globalization in the 21st century.