‘People’s Republic of Desire’ Trailer: SXSW Winner Dives Into Hidden World of China’s Live-Streaming Economy

Exclusive: Hao Wu's Grand Jury prize winner unpacks every angle of the country's strong, sometimes strange hidden economy.
'People's Republic of Desire' Trailer: China's Live-Streaming Economy
"People's Republic of Desire"

It’s called YY, just two little letters that contain multitudes. China’s largest live-streaming platform allows its greatest success stories the chance to make thousands of dollars — and collect thousands of fans, gifts, and other online accolades — just by sharing their lives via an internet connection. “People’s Republic of Desire,” Hao Wu’s award-winning documentary follows two such YY streamers, delving into not only their strange lives, but also the lives of the people who watch them for hours a day.

Per the film’s official synopsis, “Live-streaming showrooms have become virtual gathering places for hundreds of millions – from the super rich who lavish these online stars with digital gifts, to poor migrant workers who exhaust meager savings idolizing them. All of these characters are brought together in a series of bizarre online talent competitions, where they discover that happiness in their virtual world may be as elusive as in the real one.”

“People’s Republic of Desire” won the Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature at SXSW and the Grand Jury Award for International Documentary at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, in addition to awards for Best Cinematography at CAAMFest and Best International Director at Doc Edge Festival.

In his SXSW review, IndieWire’s David Ehrlich wrote of the film, “An homage to ‘Black Mirror’ that renders the dystopian show completely redundant, ‘People’s Republic of Desire’ narrows its focus on a live-streaming platform called YY. The company is already listed on NASDAQ when the film begins in 2014, but it was smaller back then, more of a niche than a nationwide phenomenon. Anyone can sign up for the social media service, but — unlike Twitter or Instagram — the relationship that users cultivate with their followers is colored by an explicitly transactional element, as fans are encouraged to tip their video idols with silly digital trinkets that cost very real money (it’s essentially a PG-13 version of cam pornography).”

“People’s Republic of Desire” was recently nominated for the IDA Award for Best Writing, and the film will next screen at DOC NYC, before hitting theaters in New York and LA on November 30. Additional cities, including Austin, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, and Portland, will be added throughout December.

Check out IndieWire’s exclusive trailer for “People’s Republic of Desire” below.

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