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POV: Still Tomorrow

Airs Monday, Aug. 6, 2018 at 11 p.m. on KPBS on KPBS TV

Yu Xinhua writing poems.

Credit: Courtesy of Jian Fan

Above: Yu Xinhua writing poems.

Defying Social and Cultural Norms, a Rural Poet Captures a Nation’s Attention

Yu Xiuhua, a secluded poet made famous by social media, is on a search for meaning in a life marked by numerous struggles.

“Still Tomorrow” chronicles distressing disputes in her family, her sudden rise to prominence and her navigation of a complicated marriage, all of which unfold while she is living in rural China with cerebral palsy.

Jian Fan skillfully gives us a glimpse into the life of this bold woman who is consistently challenging the status quo.

“Still Tomorrow” has its national broadcast and streaming debut on POV on Monday, Aug. 6, 2018.

Still Tomorrow - Trailer

A village woman, despite not having finished her high school education, has become China’s most famous poet. Her book of poetry has become the best-selling poetry book in China for the past 20 years. "Still Tomorrow" follows the poet, Yu Xihua, a 39-year-old woman living with cerebral palsy, and her sudden fame, poignantly weaving her personal narrative with that of an ascendant, urbanizing China.

The film constantly plumbs the dynamics of dichotomies: peace and labor, rural and urban, family support and independence. It opens with the tranquil landscape of a family farm paired with a captivating verse by Yu herself.

The engine behind her sudden fame is particular to the 21st century: social media.

In late 2014, a small collection of her work was published on a popular website. Due to numerous shares and posts, her poems went viral.

That she has cerebral palsy makes her accomplishments all the more astonishing.

Still Tomorrow - Labelling

During a speaking engagement at Peking University, Yu is asked about how she overcomes her disability. She declares labelling unfair and discriminatory, but also says she has limitations that she will never overcome.

Yu, who often feels confined physically and socially, embraces poetry as an outlet.

“Poetry makes me understand that it's important to live on,” she says. “It supports me. Without poetry, life is empty. When I write, I feel poems give me peace and tranquility.”

Still Tomorrow - Poetry

Yu describes what poetry means to her, saying, “Poetry makes me understand that it's important to live on. It supports me. Without poetry, life is empty...poems give me, peace and tranquillity.”

But her openness leads to disagreements with her parents. Their conflicts reveal a generation gap in rapidly urbanizing China, where the allure of modern city life is causing people to defy centuries-old expectations that they will marry early and build families.

At one point, as Yu and her mother argue over a life-changing decision for Yu, the poet pointedly asks, “You live for others or for yourself?”

“For others,” her mother simply replies.

As book publishers eagerly come calling, Yu begins to question her dependence on her husband, who travels to Beijing for construction jobs.

Still Tomorrow - Marriage

We find out that Yu’s marriage was arranged by her parents, against her will. Zhou explains that she had to find Yu a husband who would accept a disabled wife.

Jian Fan needs only the camera and its shots of the quiet dirt roads near Yu’s house and the roaring construction sites where her husband works to tell the corresponding story of China’s rapid economic ascent.

Still Tomorrow - Who is Yu?

Yu walks around the farm that has inspired some of her poetry.

“'Still Tomorrow' is a film about transformation,” said Justine Nagan, executive producer/executive director of POV/American Documentary. “How can we transform ourselves, despite the limitations — physical or social — imposed on us? It also explores an entire nation’s renewal, one where upwardly mobile people are adjusting to new social norms that seemingly change daily. Yu Xinhua, a woman who refused to be bound by what was given her, perfectly embodies both these stories.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of Jian Fan

Yu Xinhua

WATCH ON YOUR SCHEDULE:

This film will stream online on POV.org in concurrence with its broadcast. Full episodes of POV are available to view on demand for a limited time after broadcast.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION:

POV is on Facebook, Google +, and you can follow @povdocs on Twitter. #StillTomorrowFilmPBS

CREDITS:

Director is Jian Fan. Producers are Yu Hongmiao and Xu Zitao. Cinematography by Xue Ming and Jian Fan. Executive Producers for POV: Justine Nagan and Chris White. Produced by American Documentary, Inc., POV is public television’s premier showcase for nonfiction films.

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