CFF Interview: Dwarves Kingdom director Matthew Salton

We’re excited to have director Matthew Salton in attendance for the screening of his film Dwarves Kingdom, a documentary feature exploring the lives of the performers at a little people fantasy theme park in rural China. Read on for a little insight into this very curious film, and meet the man himself this Thursday. Event info and tickets here. We hope to see you there!


Cinedelphia: So first the obvious,  how did you become interested in making a film about Dwarves Kingdom?

Matthew Salton: I saw a YouTube video of a Spanish news program on the Little People Kingdom. Something about the idea of 100 little people performing in a fantasy village in a remote part of China captured my imagination. I knew I had to go there and make a film.

I think it’s safe to say that little people have been a source of fascination over the years. You can see that in European fairytales, and dwarves and elves in fantasy fiction. The park itself is modeled after these stories and finding that in rural China is interesting, let alone the fact that people who just happen to be small are playing out these roles daily. It’s very strange. My initial interest in filming was to make a tapestry of the park featuring vignettes and glimpses of life amongst the fantasy that has been constructed around the performer’s lives.

C: I got the impression fairly early on in the film that a majority of the performers have conflicting feelings about working there – even from those not directly interviewed. Can you describe the overall mood at the Kingdom while you were filming? Was it easy for you to capture an honest representation of the park on film?

MS: Well, it’s first and foremost a job for the performers. They perform twice a day almost year round whether there’s an audience or not. So the feeling there is pretty much of routine. You hear the same songs being sung and music is blaring through the park speakers before and after performances. It’s in the countryside so it can also be a very quiet and peaceful place. I would say though, as a visitor, the atmosphere is fairly bright. People are happy to be amongst  a community that supports them. 

In terms of an honest representation, I realized it would be hard to get people to talk openly or in any negative way about the park. So when Gao Yan, one of the performers, left and moved to Beijing, I knew that her journey of fulfilling a life outside of the Kingdom was a story greater than what I could capture through interviews in the park. It was going to bring a complexity and depth to everything else.


C: It was interesting hearing those you interviewed discuss their lack of contact with the dwarf community prior to living at the Kingdom. What does the existence of such a place as Dwarves Kingdom mean to you in terms of China’s feelings about the dwarf community?

MS: I was surprised when I heard that as well. I can only speak from my experience making the film, but hearing this you can see why a place like the Little People Kingdom is so attractive to a little person in China. The fact is that there are limited opportunities for little people to find employment. There’s a lot of discrimination and little people haven’t been integrated into society. The Little People Kingdom is a naive and short term solution to a greater political and societal issue.

C: What was the most satisfying aspect of filming? Personally? Professionally?

MS: When Gao Yan invited me to visit her in Beijing and then in Japan, it was really remarkable to be in these new locations with her – sometimes 6 months or a year since last seeing each other. To continue the conversation and have a small peek at these precise moments in her life is a privilege and something I hope the film does justice to. I really have to thank her for being so gracious and patient.

C: What do you hope audiences will take away after viewing?

MS: I hope the audience is ultimately moved by these stories and that when the film is finished, they sense that the film retains a bit of mystery.

Dwarves Kingdom is playing at PhilaMOCA this Thursday, April 23, at 9:30pm.

Author: Jill Malcolm

Jill is happiest attending midnight screenings with other crazy film fans at her local theater. Her other passions include reading, traveling to faraway places, cat videos, pugs, and jalapeño peppers. She is co-founder of the blog Filmhash.

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