Review: Chinese students land at U.S. prep school in documentary ‘Maineland’
Following a pair of Chinese students from affluent families studying abroad at a Portland boarding school, the cleverly titled “Maineland” emerges as a sweetly observed if not especially incisive documentary.
Admittedly drawn to America in part by “High School Musical,” outgoing Stella and the more philosophical Harry, himself intrigued by teaching that encourages critical thinking, take up residence at the historic Fryeburg Academy in rural Maine.
As Stella begins to realize that she’s in for more homework and less singing than she had envisioned, Harry is able, for the first time, to research the Tiananmen Square Massacre unimpeded.
For its part, the school’s initial desire for diversity turned to necessity during the last recession, with Fryeburg recruiters turning to the international market as admissions declined.
Shot over a period of three years in both Maine and China, the film is most effective when touching upon the persistent cultural divide that exists even with a Chinese population that accounted for over half of Fryeburg’s international student body in 2015.
Still, considering the predominantly white teaching staff and those blue collar surroundings, it feels like director Miao Wang (“Beijing Taxi”) has politely gone out of her way to avoid confronting more problematic issues pertaining to race and class distinction.
While it scratches an admittedly reflective surface, you keep hoping the nicely photographed “Maineland” would have dug a bit deeper.
In English and Chinese with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Playing: Starts June 8, AMC Atlantic Times Square 14, Monterey Park
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