Wei Hu’s “Butter Lamp” begins with that iconic portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong, hanging in front of Beijing’s Forbidden City. It’s only when a couple of poor Tibetan nomads stumble into frame that you notice the wrinkles in the backdrop.
Nominated for Best Live Action Short in the 87th Academy Awards, “Butter Lamp” provides plenty of modern commentary. Remember that Dutch girl that faked her five-month vacation to South East Asia?
Hu’s film reminds us of today’s Instagrammed culture and how our images are cropped, edited and filtered to perfection.
Like the Instagram and Facebook demographic, the villagers in Hu’s 16-minute French picture seek to invoke the illusion of wealth and affluence associated with Western culture. The changing backgrounds feature the Great Wall of China, the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the streets of Chinatown, Disney’s Magic Kingdom and Potala Palace — a place an elderly grandmother dreams to visit.
Instead of Slumber, Mayfair or Nashville, the photographer adds his own “filters,” such as a large red ribbon, modern Western jackets and a motorcycle. (The photographer himself sports an Abercrombie shirt.)
In this way, the photographer serves as both the Genie and the “Selfie Stick,” granting the wishes of these Tibetan villagers. Out of frame: we can only imagine that these portraits will be framed and displayed proudly in their households —where these Tibetans can share their worldliness with unsuspecting visitors.
Their visitors will stare with envy, not knowing how manufactured photos can be.
“Butter Lamp” was written and directed by Wei Hu. The film was nominated for Best Live Action Short in the 2015 Academy Awards.