Archive for the ‘Chinese Cinema Today’ Category

Review of Pema Tseden’s Tharlo

Wednesday, 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.


New Website Profiles History of Chinese Documentary at Sundance

Monday, February 16th, 2015
The Chinese Mayor

The Chinese Mayor

This year’s Sundance Film Festival yielded a triumphant moment for Chinese documentary film, when The Chinese Mayor, the latest effort by acclaimed director Zhou Hao and producer Qi Zhao, winning a special jury award. However, of the many independent documentaries that have come from China over the past three decades, this is only the sixth to be featured at Sundance, according to a recent article by Genevieve Carmel. This prompts Carmel to ask “Why don’t Chinese docs go to Sundance?” a question she probes at length in her article, drawing on numerous resources to present her findings.

The article is part of the website Crows & Sparrows, a new initiative “that seeks to create and enhance opportunities for independent media exchange between North American and East/Southeast Asia through regular curation and visiting filmmaker programs.” The current focus of Crows & Sparrows is on connecting film circles in Boston and Beijing. The initiative is founded by three of the most ardent supporters of contemporary Chinese independent cinema: Genevieve Carmel, Benny Shaffer and Zhou Xin. Crows & Sparrows will put its initial efforts to developing screening programs with visiting filmmakers in Boston and sharing news of other related events and international filmmaker opportunities.

Zhou Hao Wins Golden Horse Award; Next Film Chosen for Sundance Competition

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014
Cotton (dir. Zhou Hao)

Cotton (dir. Zhou Hao)

For over a decade, Zhou Hao has been making independent documentaries probing many of China’s most urgent social issues, including migrant labor, drug abuse, law enforcement and political corruption. The former journalist’s fearless and resourceful investigations have won him acclaim at various festivals; dGenerate distributes two of his most well-regarded titles, Using and The Transition Period. His most recent work is achieving even greater levels of recognition.

Last month, the Taiwan Golden Horse Film Festival awarded its Best Documentary prize to Zhou’s newest film, Cotton. In this feature, Zhou profiles a farmer, a cotton picker and workers in cotton factories, who represent the unseen labor behind China’s cotton industry.

Last week, the Sundance Institute announced that Zhou’s upcoming film The Chinese Mayor will have its world premiere in the Sundance International Film Festival’s World Documentary Competition. In this feature, Zhou closely follows Mayor Geng Yanbo, who is determined to transform the coal-mining center of Datong, in China’s Shanxi province, into a tourism haven showcasing clean energy. In order to achieve that, however, he has to relocate 500,000 residences to make way for the restoration of the ancient city.

Heartiest congratulations to Zhou Hao on his recent and continued success.

Environmental Filmmaking in China Profiles Wang Jiuliang, Jian Yi

Monday, December 8th, 2014

For the Associated Press, Louise Watt reports on the impact that environmental filmmakers are having in China. Among those profiled in the report are Wang Jiuliang and Jian Yi, whose previous environmental films are distributed by dGenerate: Beijing Besieged by Waste by Wang and What’s for Dinner? by Jian.

Wang Jiuliang discusses his new film "Plastic China." (photo credit: Associated Press)

Wang Jiuliang discusses his new film “Plastic China.” (photo credit: Associated Press)

An excerpt from the report:

One clip shows a girl swatting flies from a younger child among piles of trash. Another has children blowing up used medical gloves like balloons.

The footage is on the computer screen of Wang Jiuliang as he edits his second film about waste harming China’s environment.

He’s already in discussions to show it on the main state-run broadcaster and answering calls from state media reporters who want to interview him. This in a country where independent filmmakers critical of the government generally face censorship, harassment or worse.

Environmental filmmakers continue to be hassled at the local level — Wang said he has been chased by dogs, threatened and punched — but their work apparently is being tolerated nationally because it aligns with the Communist Party leadership’s new priority of fighting pollution.

Read the full article at AP.

Chinese Independent Film Lives On – A Photo Essay by Karin Chien

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Earlier this month, dGenerate Films’ Founder and President Karin Chien attended the 11th China Independent Film Festival (CIFF) in Nanjing. Many did not think the festival could happen.

In 2012, CIFF was shut down by the authorities. In 2013, the organizers carefully screened only 10 feature films and one documentary. Then, earlier this year, the Beijing Independent Film Festival (BIFF), known to show more politically sensitive films than CIFF, was violently repressed, the organizers detained, and their archive of over 1500 independent films confiscated.

Yet, from November 15-20, CIFF’s organizers managed to pull off the only festival of independent Chinese films in mainland China this year.

Below, Karin chronicles her visit to CIFF, as well as to the BIFF offices and to the opening ceremony of a new festival, the 2nd China Women’s Film Festival.


Documentary director Xu Tong (FORTUNE TELLER) answers questions about his latest film CUT OUT THE EYES, which tells the story of a blind traveling musician in Inner Mongolia. A classroom at Nanjing University of the Arts served as one of four screening venues for the 2014 China Independent Film Festival (CIFF). Because the festival was not widely publicized, in order not to draw attention from the authorities, the majority of the audience were students who saw the posters and programs around campus. (more…)

Report on How Documentaries are Controlled in China

Friday, August 29th, 2014
Li Xianting, film critic and organizer of the Beijing Independent Film Festival (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Li Xianting, film critic and organizer of the Beijing Independent Film Festival (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Following the recent shutdown of the Beijing Independent Film Festival, Louise Watt reports in the Associated Press on the larger state mechanisms that control documentary production and distribution in China:

China is wooing filmmakers at the same time as it’s cracking down on them. Authorities are handing more slots to documentaries, giving even independent filmmakers a chance to be shown on state television. But while China is avidly pursuing what it considers serious content to replace popular dating, reality and game shows, it is also stifling material with any whiff of challenging the Communist Party line. A weekend crackdown by authorities on an independent film festival in Beijing was the worst in its eight-year history, with police confiscating hundreds of films and briefly detaining two organizers.

On the one hand, there is a push to use documentary to promote an ideal image of China across the world while countering less substantive television programming domestically:

The government approves of such documentaries that “accord with the view of China as being a magical place full of interesting customs, traditions and good food,” said Michael Keane, an expert on China’s creative industries at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.

Li Xiaofeng, a documentaries expert at Nanjing University’s School of Journalism and Communication, said the government was encouraging documentaries to help boost China’s reputation abroad and to counter the trend of “too many” variety and other entertainment shows on local TV stations.

On the other hand, the highly regulated and restrictive environment for such films lead young filmmakers to independent venues to seek opportunities for freer expression:

Kevin B. Lee, the vice president of programming for dGenerate Films, which distributes Chinese independent films to North America, said the Beijing Independent Film Festival, which was due to open this year on Saturday, was a “vital channel” for discovering young filmmakers.

Lee said production of independent films on the mainland has “just flourished” over the past 10 years because equipment has become cheaper and more convenient. But he added that in the past two years, disruptions of film festivals have made it harder to know what’s out there.

“I worry about the upcoming as-yet-unknown talents for whom really the festival is often the first exposure they have to an outside audience,” Lee said.

Read the full report at Associated Press.

A Statement of Support for the Beijing Independent Film Festival

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014
Official poster for the 2014 Beijing Independent Film Festival

Official poster for the 2014 Beijing Independent Film Festival

Jonathan Miller, President of Icarus Films, distributor of the dGenerate Films collection, Karin Chien, dGenerate Films President and Founder, and Kevin B. Lee, dGenerate Films Vice President of Programming, join the international film community in signing a statement of support of the Beijing Independent Film Festival, which was shut down on Saturday August 24 by authorities in Beijing. Below is background information on the statement, followed by the statement and list of co-signers.

As distributors of Chinese independent films, dGenerate Films has benefitted greatly over the years from the Beijing Independent Film Festival as a renowned resource to discover exciting new works of Chinese cinema. Many titles in the dGenerate Films collection originally premiered at the Festival, attesting to the Festival’s vital function in presenting new works of Chinese cinema to the world. dGenerate’s mission to help audiences outside of China access and discover Chinese independent films is greatly inspired by the work of the Beijing Independent Film Festival and its sponsoring organization, the Li Xianting Film Fund.

We will provide updates and link to news reports as the situation unfolds on the dGenerate Films website.

For examples of the outstanding work associated with the Beijing Independent Film Festival and Chinese independent filmmaking community it serves, view the selection of documentaries and narrative films from the dGenerate collection.

Background to the Statement: 

On Saturday, August 23, the day it was to open, the 11th annual Beijing Independent Film Festival was shut down by the Chinese authorities. BIFF, supported and hosted for many years by the Li Xianting Film Fund, has been one of the most important venues within China for the exhibition of new, unauthorized, independent Chinese film, films that the censors won’t allow to be openly screened for Chinese audiences. The festival takes place at the headquarters of the Li Xianting Film Fund in the artist village of Songzhuang, a distant suburb of Tongzhou District, Beijing. For the past three years, Chinese police and local authorities have harassed the festival. But they have not succeeded, until this year, in completely shutting it down.

Police, State Security personnel, and representatives of various levels of government contacted and pressured the festival: on Saturday the electricity to the festival’s headquarters and sponsoring organization, the Li Xianting Film Fund, was cut, and anonymous “villagers” were sent to surround the headquarters and in some cases physically intimidate visitors and journalists. In what may be even more ominous news, noted critic and festival sponsor Li Xianting reported that the Film Fund’s complete archives and equipment were forcibly confiscated by the Chinese police. These archives comprise what is likely the most extensive collection within China of independent films and related research materials from the last ten years.

Statement in Support of the Beijing Independent Film Festival and the Li Xianting Film Fund:

As independent film festivals and supporters of independent cinema, we have learned with deep concern that the Chinese government and police authorities have prevented the 11th Beijing Independent Film Festival, based in Songzhuang, Beijing, from opening last weekend, August 23rd, and detained its organizers Wang Hongwei, Fan Rong, and Li Xianting for several hours. We are also deeply concerned that BIFF’s sponsoring organization, the Li Xianting Film Fund, has been raided, and the entirety of its invaluable archives of independent Chinese cinema have reportedly been confiscated.

We call upon the relevant Chinese authorities to permit the Beijing Independent Film Festival to pursue its mission to nurture and exhibit a full range of alternative cinematic voices in China, to allow the festival to operate without interference, and to allow the Li Xianting Film Fund to continue its vital mission of archiving and supporting independent Chinese filmmakers.



Berlinale Forum, Christoph Terhechte, Head
Curtas Vila do Conde International Film Festival, Nuno Rodrigues, Miguel Dias, Mário Micaelo , co-directors
dGenerate Films, Karin Chien, President
DocLisboa, Cíntia Gil and Augusto M. Seabra, co-directors
Festival International du Film de Belfort – EntreVues, Lili Hinstin, Artistic Director
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Dennis Lim, Director of Programming
Göteborg International Film Festival, Jonas Holmberg, Artistic Director,
Marit Kapla, Head of Programme
Hong Kong Independent Film Festival, Vincent Chui, Artistic Director
Images Cinema, Doug Jones, Executive DIrector
International Film Festival Rotterdam, Rutger Wolfson, Festival Director
Lima Independiente Festival Internacional de Cine, Alonso Izaguirre, Director
New York Film Festival, Kent Jones, Director
Sydney Film Festival, Nashen Moodley, Festival Director
Taiwan International Documentary Festival, Wood Lin, Program Director
The Association of Documentary Filmakers of Chile, Amalric de Pontcharra
Torino Film Festival, Emanuela Martini, Director
Tromsø International Film Festival, Martha Otte, Festival Director
Tokyo Filmex, Shozo Ichiyama, Program Director
True/False Film Fest, Paul Sturtz and David Wilson, co-directors
Visions du Réel, Luciano Barisone, Director


Chinese LGBT Film Activist Fan Popo Makes “40 Under 40” List by Advocate Magazine

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014
Fan Popo (photo: Advocate)

Fan Popo (photo: Advocate)

Congratuations to Fan Popo, a young filmmaker, social activist and director of the Beijing Queer Film Festival, for being selected as one of Advocate Magazine’s “40 Under 40 Emerging Voices” in LGBT culture and activism.

From the Advocate profile of Fan, written by Daniel Reynolds:

“Film can change people’s minds,” says the 20-something filmmaker, who learned the art of moviemaking at the Beijing Film Academy and is also the author of Happy Together: Complete Record of 100 Queer Films, which has drawn comparisons to Vito Russo’s LGBT cinema manifesto, The Celluloid Closet. To date, Fan has created several documentaries that have advocated for LGBT rights in China, including The Chinese Closet, which tells young people’s stories of coming out to their parents, and Only Love, which examines the lives of transgender people in southern China.

Read the full profile of Fan Popo at Advocate.

Interview with filmmaker Vivian Qu in Film Comment

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014
Trap Street (2013, Vivian Qu)

Trap Street (2013, Vivian Qu)

In Film Comment magazine, Xin Zhou interviews Vivian Qu, a longtime producer of Chinese independent films who recently debuted her first directorial effort, Trap Street. Excerpts:

Q. How did the story come about? It starts as a story about a man tracking
a woman, then slowly becomes a psychodrama.

A. What I wanted to portray in the first place was this feeling of
watching and being watched, which has obviously become one of the most significant characteristics of modern life. Since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, this feeling has been reinforced, distorted, and multiplied in many different ways. What propelled such a phenomenon? Can we even find out? The paradox is, today’s technology should enable us to discover truth, but it’s never been this difficult to tell the real from the unreal. I didn’t want my film to be a simple record of a particular event; I want it to be a synthesis of my thoughts and observations. Even if I cannot find the answer, at least I can raise the question: does 90 percent freedom amount to true freedom?


100 Best Mainland Chinese Films Poll Spotlights dGenerate Titles

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014
"Oxhide II" (dir. Liu Jiayin)

“Oxhide II” (dir. Liu Jiayin)

The sister publications Time Out Beijing and Time Out Shanghai recently conducted an international poll of 88 Chinese filmmakers, scholars, professionals and other experts to compile a list of the 100 greatest films made in Mainland China. They have presented the results in generous fashion, with a multi-page, suspense-building countdown of the 100 films with brief introductions to each. The countdown begins here; the list can also be accessed in complete form here.

We at dGenerate were pleased to see that six titles in the dGenerate collection placed in the poll:  Oxhide (#27), Oxhide II (#63), Winter Vacation (#74), Disorder (#80), Karamay (#86), and Fortune Teller (#88). Congratulations to directors Liu Jiayin, Li HongqiHuang Weikai, Xu Xin and Xu Tong on making the list. We also congratulate directors Jia Zhangke and Ying Liang, who are also represented in the dGenerate collection, on making the list with their films (Jia alone had seven titles on the list).

Included among the 88 contributors to the poll are three members of dGenerate who submitted their top tens. Their names and ballots are listed below, and also on the Time Out website.