Joshua Reviews Alicia Dwyer’s Xmas Without China [SXSW 2013 Review]


While the holiday season may be behind us, one thing is always present, and that’s China’s influence on the economy of the world, but the US in particular. With just about everything you can name featuring the tag of “made in China,” trying to find a way to have a holiday season without China’s economy involved would not only be tough, but costly. However, director Alicia Dwyer has created a new documentary that posits that very idea.

Xmas Without China follows the story of Tom Xia, a Chinese American, and the task he gives to his neighbors. After a discussion, he asks the family to do a Christmas season without using anything “made in China,” and when they accept the task, the story unfurls.

A well made documentary, China is wonderfully shot, but it’s main thesis is a tad odd. Within the film, we the audience become privy to the fact that not only is the idea of doing a China-free Christmas tough to completely give yourself over to contextually, but it’s also economically nearly impossible. Domestically-made products are extremely expensive and tough to hunt down, so is this a truly great idea in the first place? With an economy that is slowly making a return to form, the purchase and support of domestic products is important and influential within the grand scheme of the US economy, but it’s not something most US households can truly commit to.

However, the film itself is intriguing. The viewer is shown how difficult it truly is, and with beautiful photography and direction, and it is in the moments of difficulty or introspection that the film truly shines. We all strive to give our families the absolute best, and in a world where foreign economies reign supreme, despite the laborers that are often taken advantage of to make the products so cheap, and the confrontations that arise between Xia and the family experimenting here truly are interesting and important.

That said, one can’t help but think that these are mostly surface level discussions. Without truly delving deep into the problem that is foreign influence on our national economy, the film touches on topics ranging from nationalism to economics, without ever truly delving deep into any one topic. With great range of focus but a lack of depth, the film clocks in at right around 80 minutes, but feels even more brisk than that. Lacking the depth of a film like The China Syndrome, Xmas Without China is enjoyable enough, but doesn’t leave the viewer with any sort of intellectual debate raging inside his or her head, or coming between those he or she watched the film with.

Ultimately, Xmas Without China is an enjoyable, if slight, meditation on the influence of China within the grander world economy, but particularly that of the US. Brisk and surface level, the film lacks the intellectual and emotional oomph that makes a picture like Syndrome a great piece of journalism, but it has more than enough style to make it a solid look into how the US economic culture is dependent on foreign bodies in this age of recession.

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.