25/03/2024 | Writer: Oğulcan Özgenç

We spoke to Benjamin Mullinkosson, the director of The Last Year of Darkness, which is released at MUBI.

“My goal with the film is to write a love letter to queer community” Kaos GL - News Portal for LGBTI+

Benjamin Mullinkosson’s film “The Last Year of Darkness” has recently been released on MUBI. The film provides a glimpse into Funkytown, an underground club in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in southwest China, known for its vibrant LGBTI+ community. Bass-heavy and neon-coloured portrait of the alternative Chinese youth in a country in constant state of change that now threatens the underground club Funky Town. The club attracts a diverse crowd of “eccentric” performance artists, DJs, and all others of the city…

Mullinkosson’s camera focuses on various people, including DJ Kimberly, who manages a record label in Chengdu, Mongolian hip-hop DJ 647, photographer Gennady Baranov from St. Petersburg, as well as Darkle and drag performer Yihao from Funkytown. Here’s the trailer of the documentary on MUBI:

“Attuned to the energy of nightlife in the Sichuan capital, Benjamin Mullinkosson’s immersive documentary pulsates to the euphoric beats of electronic music. A love letter to the city’s charismatic nonconformists and the fabled club that provides a queer haven amid an ever-changing urban landscape.”

We interviewed director Benjamin Mullinkosson to delve into the genesis of the film, the responses it garnered, and the potential of cinema in capturing the cultural expressions and entertainment scene of the queer community in China.

I would like to start by asking how the film The Last Year of Darkness came about. How did you decide to make this film? How long did it take to complete? How did the idea come about?

I actually never wanted to make a movie. In 2018 I moved back to Chengdu to escape the advertising world in Los Angeles. I escaped to Funkytown. It was with glasses full of the local plum wine where I met everyone in the film, who were also escaping one struggle or another. At Funkytown one night Yihao said, “Oh you are a filmmaker from LA? When are you going to make a movie about me?” And I proposed, “How about Saturday night?” He said yes and that’s how the movie started.

We followed Yihao as well as 8 other friends of mine met at Funkytown over the course of 5 years. We shot 125 days, or nights really, with a total of 600 hours of footage. Originally we would meet up at 10pm and film each person getting ready for the night, follow the protagonist to the party, film the person getting fucked up, figuring out their purpose in life, vomiting, falling in love and then going home at 10am. Our film team was partying with our friends on camera the whole time we shot and after years of partying we started to film during the day time which is when we all face the reality of our struggles. We edited the film for 2 years and ultimately decided to include only 5 of the protagonists who’s stories intertwined with Funkytown the most.

“Vulnerability is strength, that’s what I have learned from the protagonists of the film”

How was the movie received by audiences, and what insights did you gain during the filmmaking process?

Originally this film was created as a love letter to Funkytown and our experiences in Chengdu so to show the film on a wide level gives our underground party community the respect it deserves. A lot of people have reached out saying that they connect to the struggles of the characters and that is the amazing thing to me - when we are vulnerable and express our individual darkness, the world opens up and we come together in solidarity. Vulnerability is strength. That’s what I have learned from the protagonists of the film.

“Originally I wanted to make a film about my friends figuring out life in their 20’s”

You show a subculture in your film. What is the importance of reflecting the culture of the queer community through cinema? What kind of possibilities does cinema give you in this regard?

I never wanted to make a film about a subculture or the queer community. It just so happens that a lot of my friends are queer and a part of “subcultures.” Maybe because I am a queer skater who loves Techno music, so I am surrounded by similar people. Originally I wanted to make a film about my friends figuring out life in their 20’s.

I think there is this magic when you have a safe space to get wild within a community of supportive people and the community lends space to experiment with sexuality or find your voice as an artist like Yihao or myself. Also space to fall in love, or just hookup and make mistakes and learn. Or even on a simple level, a space to connect with friends and allowing oneself to be vulnerable so we can process trauma together. Funkytown gave us all that space. In 2018 when I saw Funkytown hidden by the construction cranes, I knew this space was magic and I would be lucky to have some of the best years of my life tucked in the little corner of the world.

“We need this sanctuary to cleanse ourselves and get reborn into the world”

Throughout the film, we see that the characters experience various emotional states. The feeling of loss, self-harm... Actually, they are all going through their own struggles. As Yihao says, they are all people. Aren’t the emotions experienced by the queer community in China very socially based? What kind of discrimination do they face in China? Does having fun show itself as a resistance against all discrimination?

The struggles the protagonists are going through are actually very universal. After our premiere in Copenhagen, many audience members went up to Kimberly and opened up about how their relationships have similar dynamics and how mental health has affected their situations. It’s inspiring to me that when we are vulnerable and open up about the darkness in our lives, how we come together to connect, listen and create solidarity. As Yihao once said, “Having fun is a way of life.” Within our group of friends going to places like Funkytown is almost like how many Christians go to church. We need this sanctuary to cleanse ourselves and get reborn into the world.

Finally, how do you think Western audiences will react to your film? Was there a message you wanted to give to the Western audience while making this film?

To many western audiences, my group of friends at Funkytown have never been seen. Yet more often than not, when a western audience watches the film they are pleasantly surprised how relatable the struggles and experiences of the protagonists truly are. As Yihao says, “we’re all people.” I’ve been lucky to be a part of this community and my goal with the film is to write a love letter to it.

Tags: arts and culture, life