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August 21–27, 2015

Chicago Theatrical

The Iron Ministry

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Film still: The Iron Ministry Film still: The Iron Ministry Film still: The Iron Ministry


Best Documentary
Chicago Intl
Film Fest
"The best film about China in the twenty-first century that I've seen to date"
"Outstanding... pungently immersive"
  —Hollywood Reporter
"Absorbing... The Iron Ministry turns the chaos of modern China into dense, frantic poetry"
Critics' Pick "Vivid and mysterious and full of life"
  —New York Times
"Moving, revelatory, and often funny"
  —Village Voice
"The Iron Ministry is an undeniably virtuoso accomplishment. More importantly, as an empathetic portrait of perseverance, it's a humane, often illuminating transcontinental chronicle"
  —Cinema Scope
"A marvelous and frequently alarming snapshot of the country's militantly upheld class divide"
  —Slant Magazine
Recommended "Coolly formal yet ceaselessly tactile, [J.P. Sniadecki's] film works from lovely visual abstraction to the most material of physical concerns"
  —NewCity Chicago

Filmed over three years on China's railways—which are immense and one of largest systems in the world—The Iron Ministry traces the vast interiors of a country on the move: flesh and metal, clangs and squeals, light and dark, language and gesture. Scores of rail journeys come together into one, capturing the thrills and anxieties of social and technological transformation.

We are gradually introduced to the people who ride and work on the cars, with their luggage, their produce, the products they are selling and the goods being transported. These passengers are crammed into every corner of each train car, with the exception of a first-class compartment from which the filmmaker J.P. Sniadecki (Foreign Parts, People's Park), is barred. At one point, Sniadecki follows a food vendor from one end of a train to another, as he nonchalantly makes his way through a sea of humanity so thick and ungainly that the very idea of negotiating it seems impossible.

The Iron Ministry immerses audiences in a disorienting montage of sounds and sights, fleeting relationships as well as uneasy encounters between humans and machines in this fascinating observational documentary. During fleeting encounters in the train, with a view of panoramic landscapes, we get to know the inhabitants who, despite their fears, look hopefully to the future.

Directed by J.P. Sniadecki, U.S.A./China, 2014, 82 mins. In Mandarin with English subtitles.


  • Fri., Aug. 21 at 7 & 9 pm
  • Sat., Aug. 22 at 3, 5, 7 & 9 pm
  • Sun., Aug. 23 at 1, 3, 5 & 7 pm
  • Mon.–Thurs., Aug. 24–27 at 7 & 9 pm
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$10 general admission

$5 for Facets Members

The Facets Cinémathèque is located at 1517 W. Fullerton Ave. in Chicago. Call the Cinémathèque Hotline at 773.281.4114 for the latest schedule, showtimes and updates.

For all Cinémathèque inquiries, contact Charles Coleman at 773.281.9075 or

  • John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
  • Artworks: National Endowment for the Arts
  • Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences
  • Comer Family Foundation
  • Bloomberg Philanthropies
  • Alphawood Foundation
  • Polk Bros. Foundation