Fantastic Fest X: DWARVES KINGDOM is a Magical Place

The documentary track this year at Fantastic Fest just keeps delivering with the strangely heartwarming documentary Dwarves Kingdom. This great doc captures 2 years in the life of Gao Yan, one of the performers at The Kingdom of the Little People, a controversial amusement park in Western China populated by almost 100 little people, where they live, work, and play.

The doc starts off introducing and interviewing the subjects of the Kingdom who, overall, talk about how it’s a positive and happy place. The general consensus is they enjoy living there, because they are living amongst so many other little people who all support and care for one another in their day-to-day lives in the park. These interviews are transposed against shots of the sad, dilapidated, medieval castle-like park, which they inhabit almost like a human zoo and perform in strange talent/side shows for the visitors.

We are then introduced to Gao Yan, a singer who is always front and center in the park’s festivities, but dreams of a better life outside of its walls as a pop star or actress. When Gao Yan ends up leaving the Kingdom, she soon finds out that the grass isn’t always greener as she struggles in Japan as a costumed cartoon character at an amusement park. After realizing her dreams may sadly be out of her reach she begins to contemplate returning to the Kingdom.

Dwarves Kingdom is a mesmerizing look at these little people’s lives as they make their choices, and we get to experience the consequences with them. While the film runs at barely over 70 minutes, you still get a well rounded arc with Gao Yan and her adventures both in and outside the park and some great insight into the lives of some of the other performers as well. While the doc does look briefly at the exploitation factor at the park, its focus remains on its inhabitants to tell their own story and feelings of being on display. Some of the interviews can be just as painful as they are inspiring.

Dwarves Kingdom leaves you with a melancholy happiness and surprisingly hopeful for the well being for its subjects. Matthew Salton tells a compelling and thoughtful tale of these little people with big hearts and the strange fantastical world they inhabit. Dwarves Kingdom transcends the camp and exploitation factor and instead at its heart is a very human story. Everyone can ultimately relate to the need to belong, even while being very different.

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