Obtaining dGenerate Films

June 19th, 2015

Welcome to dGenerate Films. If you are looking to watch or acquire any of our groundbreaking films featured in our catalog, please contact Icarus Films, who are representing our sales. They can be reached via phone at (718)488-8900 or email at mail@icarusfilms.com.

Visit the dGenerate Films collection on the Icarus Films website by clicking here.

Interview with Yang Mingming, director of Female Directors

December 2nd, 2016

By Josh Feola 

Yang Mingming, a self-described “hutong kid” born in 1988 and raised in central Beijing, fell into filmmaking in college. She majored in film and television directing at the National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts, gravitating to the camera after pursuing an early passion for dance and theater. Female Directors, Yang’s first film after graduation, tells the story of two close friends and aspiring directors in Beijing — Ah Ming, portrayed by Yang, and Yueyue, portrayed by Yang’s close friend and former classmate, Guo Yue. The film plays with the format and content of the documentary so convincingly that I sincerely failed to register it as fiction the first time I saw it. Repeated viewings reveal Yang’s subtle play with the narrative structure and aesthetic form of the film, an alacrity that belies the director’s rigid technical planning and rehearsals.

After re-watching Female Directors, I asked Yang a few questions about some of the technical aspects of making the film, as well as the social and gender critiques that it aims to level against China’s swiftly modernizing society.

Yang (L) on the set of Female Directors

Yang (L) on the set of Female Directors

dGenerate Films: How did you get into filmmaking initially? Is it something you were interested in since you were young, or did it develop later?

Yang Mingming: 15 years ago I wanted to be a dancer, and after that I became interested in theater. But I didn’t pass the stage director’s exam, and due to a random combination of factors, I ended up studying film. Film isn’t like painting, or any kind of art that one person can do on their own. Because of this, early on, my interest in film manifested as an interest in the film’s audience. Even though now I’ve made Female Directors and a few other short films, when I’m shooting, I’m never completely happy. I think this is the normal state of affairs: when a director is shooting, she shouldn’t be happy, because there’s no time, and there’s the responsibilities of directing are so heavy. When I finish a movie, I totally lose interest in my film–I can only maintain interest in other people’s films. This is my main interest in filmmaking anyway—seeing other people’s films.

dGF: What about Guo Yue? Is she a university friend of yours in real life, or someone you met in the process of making this film?

YMM: Guo Ye and I went to the same school. She was two years below me, she’s my shimei (“little sister”). We’d collaborated before I started Female Directors when she acted in a film I made as my graduation project. Outside of working together, we’re also really good friends, and we really trust one another. We’re the kind of friends that can casually kiss, but we’re not lesbians.

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Review: Yang Mingming’s Female Directors

December 1st, 2016

By Josh Feola 

Courtesy of Icarus Films

Courtesy of Icarus Films

This review contains spoilers.

Yang Mingming’s 2012 debut Female Directors, a documentary-style narrative centered on the fractious but durable relationship between two young, underemployed film school graduates in Beijing, lends itself to the kind of one-dimensional feminist reading that reviewers have used to unlock the ostensible themes of Yang’s often tongue-in-cheek mockumentary. A number of reviewers have noted Yang’s use of a handheld digital camera — functionally the film’s third character, as it frequently changes hands between the film’s two protagonists — as a deliberate reversal of the male gaze. This consideration and the fact that there are no male characters in the film, aids the films’ explicit address questions of gender in contemporary Chinese society, both criticizing and reinforcing gender norms.

Rather than assess Female Directors based on the gender identities of its director and lead actresses — Yang performs as “Ah Ming” alongside her collaborator Guo Yue, who acts as “Yueyue” — a broader approach seeks to find the film’s meaning in its technical execution, a spare and brilliant adaptation of cinéma vérité style, exposing truth concealed by artifice, and offering an incisive look into the ritually self-obsessed nature of young Chinese creatives.

***

Infidelity and duplicity are recurring themes in Female Directors. The plot, insofar as there is one, hinges around the early revelation that Ah Ming and Yueyue, aspiring directors and best friends who’ve seemingly made a pact to film their every moment together with the ultimate goal of creating a documentary, discover that they’ve both been having an affair with the same married man. This wealthy adulterer, an invisible narrative prop from Guangdong, is never seen nor heard, and only ever referred to by the nickname “Short Stuff”. As the story progresses, Ah Ming and Yueyue reveal details about their relationship with Short Stuff, sometimes as barbed lies, others as revelations that evoke sympathy. Yueyue, we discover, has been sleeping with Short Stuff in exchange for the promise of receiving a Beijing hukou — a residence permit that would grant her considerable municipal benefits. Ah Ming, who coldly insinuates that Yueyue is no better than a prostitute, herself accepts a 16,000 RMB (roughly $2,500) “loan” from Short Stuff to make a film.

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China Onscreen Biennale Brings a Diverse Program of Chinese Media Arts to Los Angeles, New York, and DC

October 31st, 2016

by Maya Rudolph

Screen Shot 2016-10-30 at 4.47.50 PMDuring the fall of 2016, the “best of” Chinese cinema and media art is coming to Los Angeles, New York, and Washington DC with the China Onscreen Biennale. Now in its third iteration, the COB boasts an energetically interdisciplinary program of new Chinese cinema, restored classics, and a broad range of off-screen events. Without a jury or competition element, the COB presents a creative, independently-curated series that includes premieres of new works by Pema Tseden, Ying Liang, Jia Zhangke, and Zhao Liang; a series of site-specific “sound mandalas”; an artist exchange project rooted in Dunhuang, one of the Silk Road’s most historically significant areas; group meditations; and discussions with filmmakers and scholars designed to encourage open conversation between American and Chinese film communities.

From Gu Changwei's N39º54? 12.56? E116º23? 14.20?

From Gu Changwei’s N39º54? 12.56? E116º23? 14.20?

The COB program is selected by chief curator Cheng-Sim Lim and a committee representing the COB’s Presenting Partners, which also host many of the screenings and include UCLA, The Freer and Sackler Galleries, the Asia Society, and more. Lim, an independent curator, became chief curator of the COB after being approached by Susan Pertel Jain, Executive Director of the UCLA Confucius Institute, with an idea to create a film series with a fresh take on Chinese media and performance. “It was always important that the series be independently curated,” Lim said, “We really feel we have the opportunity to do things differently with this project.” The COB’s Chinese title is a reminder of this commitment to keeping the program active and open; a poetic license that activates the Chinese noun “screen” into a verb. In designing the COB, Lim also considered the cities in the US with nuanced audiences and varying relationships to China, “At first we thought about audiences in LA and DC. LA is the film capital and DC is the political capital, so these are important cities to be in dialogue with China and Chinese films.” Three editions in, the COB has added New York to the lineup, and cultivated a city-specific program that presents work from China and China itself “not as an object,” said Lim, “but as part of a specific exchange, a conversation.”

From Jia Zhangke's "The Hedonists"

From Jia Zhangke’s “The Hedonists”

While the COB’s 2016 film program presents diverse approaches to story, a reach for identity—shaped by geography, family, or a shifting economy—is a key element of many films and reflects what Lim called “a plurality of voices coming from China.” Zhao Liang’s stunning documentary Behemoth crawls deep into the belly of the beast fueling development in Inner Mongolia, while Wang Bing’s Ta’ang, shows life in a refugee camp on the Sino-Myanmar border. In his new short film The Hedonists, Jia Zhangke attempts levity and drone photography in the face of hard times for coal miners in Shanxi Province; and knotty questions of Tibetan identity and family shape Sonthan Gyal’s River and Liu Jie’s De Lan. At the COB’s opening night at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, a series of video works by Gu Changwei was enriched by a conversation with the artist and the West Coast premiere of Pema Tsenden’s Tharlo, a tragicomic story of ID cards, karaoke, and loss in remote Qinghai Province.

The COB’s thoughtful promotion of diversity in art and filmmaking from today’s China creates engaging and often mesmerizing access points for American audiences to connect to China. “From the very beginning, we thought, let’s put this work up [on the screen] without a specific frame on it,” said Lim, “Let’s approach this work as film lovers, with an open mind, and see what happens.”

The COB will run until November 14 in Los Angeles, November 3rd to December 1st in New York, and November 12 to 27th in Washington DC. More info is available on their website at www.chinaonscreen.org

dGenerate Titles Reviewed by VCinema

October 11th, 2016

Three dGenerate titles were recently reviewed by VCinema, a podcast and blog devoted to Asian film, media, and culture.

Pema Tseden's Tharlo

Pema Tseden’s ‘Tharlo’

Writing for VCinema, Rowena Santos Aquino reviewed Pema Tseden’s Tharlo, the story of a Tibetan shepherd whose isolated routine and sense of identity is irrevocably displaced when he travels to the city in search of an ID card and stumbles into contradictions of “the opposing existential temporalities of bureaucracy/imposed history…and of land/localness…and how this opposition impinges on identity.” Addressing Tseden’s heartbreaking story of misplaced affections and broken assumptions, Aquino writes “The staggering irony about Tharlo’s journey to obtain his I.D. card, a document whose purpose is to disclose and/or confirm one’s identity in image and words, is that in the course of doing so, he loses the identity that he has …this irony is the power of Tseden’s film.”

Wang Bing's 'Three Sisters'

Wang Bing’s ‘Three Sisters’

Aquino’s review of Wang Bing’s documentary Three Sisters offers reflections not only into Wang’s film on “shifting…compositions of family,” but also into the “mosaic” that makes up Wang’s eclectic canon of work. In describing the story of three young sisters who shuffle them between family members’ homes amid stark economic hardship, Aquino praises Wang’s filmic rhythm as “improvisatory and loose” and comments that the low camera angles Wang employs to create spatial congruency with his young subjects serves as “not just a technical decision but also like a tacit gesture of solidarity, or at the very least empathy, in the midst of the sisters’ uncertain everyday and destitute environment.”

John Berra reviewed Yang Mingming’s Female Directors, a mockumentary investigation into the close, albeit fractious, relationship between two young film school grads, their “taboo breaking” antics, and the omnipresent camera they wield like a weapon. Addressing topics that range from the oft-mentioned “Mr. Short” or “Short Stuff”—a lover and benefactor on whom both the women rely—to the true nature of honesty and “relative honesty,” “Female Directors is a candid meta-commentary that deconstructs not only its titular pair’s varied, at times contradictory responses to male-dominated society but the methods used to examine such conditions in the digital age.

Review of Pema Tseden’s Tharlo

September 28th, 2016
Courtesy of Icarus Films

Courtesy of Icarus Films

by Maya Rudolph 
This review contains spoilers.

Tharlo, Pema Tsenden’s noir-inflected romance, is a story of identity, a journey of the self in black and white. A Tibetan shepherd known by his eponymous “Ponytail” travels from his rural home to a small city in Qinghai Province in reluctant pursuit of an ID card—the documentation all Chinese rely on to designate their residency. His never-used given name is Tharlo and, though he’s easygoing, Ponytail isn’t convinced that he needs an ID. “I know who I am,” he says plainly. “Isn’t that enough?” But it’s not enough—at least not for Tseden to set the stakes for Tharlo’s journey into the miasma of the city. A conversation of the heaviness of life and death plays out in the bureau office of Chief Dorjie, a friendly Tibetan cop who compliments Tharlo’s formidable recitation of Mao’s “Serve the People.” As the men reflect on the line “To die for the people is weightier than Mount Tai,” Tharlo tells Dorjie he’s confident that his own way of serving the people, tending his flock of sheep, will bring Mount Tai-volume gravity to his death when the time comes.

In the city, Ponytail tries on his urban identity as Tharlo. Accompanied by an orphaned lamb he carries in a satchel, Tharlo waits his turn in a photography studio and watches a couple pose, first against a painted backdrop of Tian’anmen Square and then a boxy, distorted representation of the New York City skyline. Tseden presents the discrete, static spaces of an urban town through reflections and cropped frames that betray Tharlo’s discomfort with the unfamiliar customs of city life. Played with a plainspoken good humor by Tibetan comedian Shide Nyima, Tharlo is a good sport of ineffable age who seems at home in himself, if not in his surroundings.

But when it’s Tharlo’s turn to have his likeness captured, the photographer finds his hygiene wanting, and so he gamely heads across the street to have his hair washed and tidied. It’s in a dingy barbershop that Tharlo meets a very pretty hairdresser whose direct, modern style makes a deep impression. She flirts with him, massages his head with shampoo, and compliments his “cute ponytail.” If naive, mild-mannered Tharlo is a classic noir archetype of the hapless stranger, the hairdresser’s sideways smile marks her as Tibetan cinema’s foremost femme fatale. She invites Tharlo to join her for a night of karaoke, where Tharlo stumbles through the ultimate urban paradox of good and evil: a first date. The private karaoke room, all laser disco lights and tinny pop songs, is claustrophobic and disorienting for Tharlo. They spend the night in the barbershop and it’s only the next morning when we see her body lean in for a goodbye kiss, or to whisper something, that we learn her name: Yangtso.

Tharlo returns home to his isolated mountain home and Tseden’s camera opens up to the grand sweep of a lonely figure beneath staggering peaks and endless sky. Tharlo tells Dorjie that he thinks he’s met a bad person in the city, but it’s clear that Yangtso weighs on his thoughts even while the familiar evils of the steppe make trouble for Tharlo and his sheep. At home, he drinks and smokes himself to uncontrollable coughing fits, sets off fireworks to break the stillness of the night, and teaches himself to sing folk love songs. Eventually, he capitulates to temptation, or curiosity, and returns to the city with a stack of cash. Tharlo and Yangtso decide to run away together—to really see Beijing, or even New York City—but not before Yangtso divests Ponytail of his namesake in favor of a more anonymous look.

While assured black and white photography and the contrasting scale of urban and rural geography create a compelling visual language, the truth of Pema Tseden’s narrative is heard rather than seen. The sleepy world of the steppe, punctuated by bleating sheep, is delineated from the city’s static of cheesy music and diesel engines by the puttering of Tharlo’s motorbike, the sounds fully realized even at long distance. In the city, where every image is reframed and refracted in windows and the literal smoke and mirrors of the barbershop, only sound emerges trustworthy. Tharlo’s identity is made and unmade in exterior sounds: the cry of his little orphan sheep; his hacking cough; the ugly sonic bleed of the karaoke bar; the loud hum of electric razor Yangtso uses to shave Tharlo’s head. When Tharlo wakes up the morning after his haircut to find Yangtso and his fortune gone, he barely appears in our mirrored view of the empty barbershop. It is the sound of him opening and closing drawers, a shuffling of objects grown increasingly frantic that confirms the betrayal.

Returning to Chief Dorjie’s bureau, a traumatized Tharlo learns that his ID card has finally arrived. His head shaved by the woman who destroyed him, our hero finds that his identity is null—he no longer resembles the man on the ID card. He’ll have to go back to the photographer and start all over again. “I’m afraid now my death will be lighter than a feather,” Tharlo despairs, now a stranger to himself.

***

Tharlo is a story of crushing themes and bald questions of identity, a cautionary tale with an iron spine of rightness gone wrong, but Tseden manages to guide this adaptation of his own novella with an even hand. Heaviness and lightness are juggled in the measured pacing, the story of a man’s undoing told simply, but not without irony or an appreciation for the exquisite awkwardness of courtship. In his initial appraisal of Tharlo as a good man, Chief Dorjie claims to possess a policeman’s intuition for assessing a person as good or bad on sight, a ludicrous claim that nonetheless tortures Tharlo as his own image changes, molded by the perceptions of others and reduced to ambiguity.

Certainly, questions of Tibetan identity in a Chinese infrastructure cement the story’s context, but the influence of politics and modernity is inexorable from Tharlo and Yangtso’s graceless love story. Brazen Yangtso is an impalpable figure and Tharlo’s attraction to and repulsion by her are the least of her contradictions. She is a Tibetan woman liberated from (or deprived of) her traditional long braids, a Tibetan women who smokes and sings pop songs and flirts easily, a modern Tibetan woman in a Western Chinese city. While the ID card is an obvious metaphor for Tharlo’s fractured identity, the truth of his crisis is manifest in Yangtso. As a Tibetan woman, her physical being is familiar, but Tharlo comes undone when her behavior takes a wrecking ball to his binary convictions, his sense of the world and ability to know himself.

In the moments after Yangtso shaves Tharlo’s head, she sits beside him in a barber chair, each captured in separate, adjacent mirrors. Her posture is casual, sizing up this man. Tharlo’s troubles may originate in the dangerous act of classification—making physical ones identity in the form of a state-issued card—but romance is another kind of identity crisis. Infatuation is a black hole. And love can dismantle a person, no matter who they think they are.

2016 Chinese Visual Festival in London, May 11-20

May 5th, 2016

Tharlo (dir. Pema Tseden)

The 2016 Chinese Visual Festival program is one of the strongest yet for this long-running series featuring an exciting range of award-winning films and video art from around the Chinese language speaking world, plus a line-up of fascinating high-profile guests from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. With Q&As, panels, receptions and other events, there’s plenty of chances to meet the filmmakers and artists, and to get involved in learning more about the topics and themes behind the works.

The 2016 C schedule may be accessed here.

Best of Beijing Independent Film Festival Coming to NYC (update: 3 new films, 2 new venues announced)

July 9th, 2015

* July 28 update:

- two additional screening venues have joined the series, adding two additional films to the lineup. Egg and Stone will screen August 17 at the Made in NY Media Center by IFP; and The Last Moose of Aoluguya will screen September 9 at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University.

- Additionally, UnionDocs has added a fifth film to their portion of the series: The River of Life will screen September 11.

- Filmmaker Li Luo will now be present at both screenings of his film Emperor Visits the Hell at Anthology Film Archives, August 7 and 10.

CINEMA ON THE EDGE: THE BEST OF THE BEIJING INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL 2012-2014 showcases the best recent Chinese independent cinema at multiple venues in New York City

Kickstarter campaign launches in support of Cinema on the Edge

Cinema on the Edge: The Best of the Beijing Independent Film Festival 2012-2014
August 7 to September 13, 2015
Anthology Film Archives, The Asia Society, Maysles Cinema at the Maysles Documentary Center, Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA), and UnionDocs

A film series unlike any other, “Cinema on the Edge: Best of the Beijing Independent Film Festival” celebrates the daring spirit and creative innovation of independent filmmakers and festival organizers in mainland China. The Beijing Independent Film Festival (BIFF) has been at the forefront of presenting these groundbreaking films in China, but for the last three years the festival has met substantial official resistance. Several of these films will now be brought to the United States for the first time, to be screened in some of the best museums and cinemas in New York City.

This film series features 18 programs of outstanding recent Chinese independent cinema, showcasing the work of such acclaimed filmmakers as Ai Weiwei, Li Luo, Hu Jie, Zou Xueping and Yang Mingming.  The series is organized and curated by three of Chinese independent cinema’s most committed supporters: producer and distributor Karin Chien, critic and curator Shelly Kraicer, and filmmaker and anthropologist J.P. Sniadecki. Six of NYC’s most revered film and cultural institutions will present these works: Anthology Film Archives, Asia Society, Maysles Cinematheque, The Weatherhead East Asian Insitute at Columbia University Museum of Chinese in America, Made in NY Media Center by IFP, and UnionDocs.

The program team is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for guest travel and program printing, enabling the series to foster important dialogue and discussion around these films. [https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/504829220/cinema-on-the-edge-best-of-the-beijing-indie-film]

Click through for the full series description and list of films. A video introducing the campaign can be viewed here:

https://vimeo.com/131274599

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New Book on Independent Chinese Documentary

June 17th, 2015

9780748695621.coverWe’re excited to welcome the publication of a new book, Independent Chinese Documentary: Alternative Visions, Alternative Publics, written by Dan Edwards and published by Edinburgh University Press. Dan has contributed several outstanding articles to dGenerate in the past, and his book is a welcome addition to the burgeoning field of contemporary Chinese cinema and documentary studies.

Details on the book are as follows:

Independent Chinese Documentary: Alternative Visions, Alternative Publics analyses how independent documentaries are forging a new public sphere in today’s China

Since the turn of the twenty-first century there has been an explosion in Chinese independent documentary filmmaking. But how are we to understand this vibrant burst of activity? Are these films brave expressions of dissidence, or do they point to a more complex attempt to expand the terms of public discourse in the People’s Republic?

This timely study is based on detailed interviews with Chinese documentary makers rarely available in English, and insights gained by the author while working as a journalist in Beijing. It considers the relationship between independent documentaries and China’s official film and television sectors, exploring the ways in which independent films probe, question and challenge the dominant ideas and narratives circulating in the state-sanctioned public sphere. Detailed analyses of key contemporary documentaries reveal a sustained attempt to forge an alternative public sphere where the views and experiences of petitioners, AIDS sufferers, dispossessed farmers and the victims of Mao’s repression can be publicly aired for a small, but steadily growing, public.

Key Features:

  • A detailed account of one of the world’s most active, vibrant and challenging contemporary documentary sectors
  • Draws extensively on first-hand interviews with filmmakers
  • Offers in-depth, critical analyses of China’s most challenging contemporary independent documentaries
  • Discusses China’s state-sanctioned film and television sectors to cast new light on how the official public sphere is shaped and guided by the state

Furman University Hosts Chinese Environmental Film Festival This Week

February 23rd, 2015

chinesefilm3The Chinese Environmental Film Festival and Workshop is a collaboration between filmmakers, scholars and experts who are interested in examining the environmental issues facing China. Organized by faculty and staff members at Furman University, the event is being held for the first time.

The festival, which will be held Feb. 26-28, will feature eight films, including the premiere of a documentary produced by two filmmakers from China’s Yunnan Province. The final day of the festival will include a workshop where speakers and experts will have the opportunity to provide critical commentary related to the films.

Supported by a Luce Initiative on Asian Studies and the Environment grant, the event is part of Furman’s ongoing effort to encourage innovative interdisciplinary teaching, research and programming on Asia’s environment.

Full schedule follows:

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