Archive for the ‘dGenerate Titles’ Category

Interview with Yang Mingming, director of Female Directors

Friday, 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

Thursday, 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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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.

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.

Three New Titles Added to dGenerate Films Collection

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014
Mothers (dir. Xu Huijing)

Mothers (dir. Xu Huijing)

We are happy to announce three new additions to the dGenerate Films collection, released by Icarus Films just in time for the new school year!

Sterilization quotas seem like the stuff of science fiction–but they are all too real as documented in the shocking exposé Mothers, a film by Xu Huijing that offers a powerful feminist perspective, as we watch men developing and enforcing reproductive policies for women.

Meat is central to the daily meals of billions of people, yet the enormous environmental, climate, public health, ethical, and human impacts of its consumption are remain largely undocumented. Jian Yi’s new short film What’s For Dinner? explores this terrain in fast-globalizing China through the eyes of a pig farmer in rural Jiangxi province; a vegan restaurateur in Beijing; a bullish young livestock entrepreneur; and residents of the infamous Chinese region nicknamed “the world’s meat factory.”

It was 12 o’clock at night when police knocked on the door for a “room inspection.” “I turned on a small camcorder. This film is the record of that visit,” explains Zhu Rikun–filmmaker, distributor, and artistic director of the Beijing Independent Documentary Festival–of his explosive short film The Questioning.

These three new films are part of the dGenerate Films Collection at Icarus Films, as well as IcarusFilms’ extensive collections of documentary films on Chinese StudiesAsian Studies,Women’s Studies, and Environmental Studies. The dGenerate collection also contains narrative films.

To preview or purchase these or any other IcarusFilms titles, contact Nina Riddel: (718) 488-8900 - nina [at] icarusfilms.com

Voices of Praise for Environmental Food Documentary “What’s For Dinner?”

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014
Scene from "What's for Dinner?" (directed by Jian Yi)

Scene from “What’s for Dinner?” (directed by Jian Yi)

One of the newest additions to the dGenerate Films Collection, What’s for Dinner? is a short documentary that provides a unique look into the rapidly growing consumption of meat in China and the increasing industrialization of agriculture. Produced by the environmental organization Brighter Green, the film examines the impact that industrial food production and consumption is having on sustainability, public health, food security, climate change and animal welfare.

The film has already made an impact in screenings around the world by opening audiences’ eyes to the stark new realities of food in China and its implications on the rest of the globe. The following testimonials were collected among esteemed authors, scholars and activists in the arenas of public health, environmental studies, East Asian studies, and agricultural and animal studies.

What’s for Dinner? is part of the dGenerate Films collection, and is available for order at Icarus Films. Find out more about the film.

To organize a screening of the film in your area, contact Icarus Films at rentals (at) icarusfilms (dot) com.

“What’s For Dinner? documents in gripping detail China’s headlong transition to industrial animal agriculture and the tragic impact it has on animals, public health, and the environment. The film triumphs in vividly highlighting the inexorable economic logic driving the consolidation of pigs into nascent CAFOs that are burgeoning across the countryside to meet China’s growing demand for meat. Alongside an empathetic but critical portrayal of China’s growing consumer preference for meat, “What’s for Dinner?” also captures the rise of a vegan/vegetarian undercurrent that’s emerging to counter the trend toward factory farming… The film would be an ideal supplement to any course exploring the environmental, economic, and ethical implications of animal agriculture.“ - James McWilliams, PhD, Author

“What’s for Dinner? brings into sharp contrast the China of today and the China of twenty years ago. It is an easily absorbable film that can be used as a learning tool for any student interested in the potential impacts of meat consumption on the earth writ large, including chronic diseases and the environment. It also highlights the influence of Western culture and economic affluence on eating patterns across the world, a phenomenon that will be of interest to anyone studying or teaching global public health. A highly recommended film.” - Amy Joyce, Associate Director, Public Health Practice, NYU Global Institute of Public Health

“What’s For Dinner is an urgent and compelling documentary about the globalization of industrial meat production. It documents the consequences of rising meat consumption in China, detailing its impact on health, labor, animal welfare, and the environment. I can attest to the pedagogical and political power of this film.” - Maria Elena Garcia, Director, Comparative History of Ideas Program, University of Washington

“What’s For Dinner? is a powerful teaching tool. The film is engaging for lay audiences and sophisticated enough for experts in related fields — I would highly recommend to both.” - Mark Foran, MD, MPH, NYU School of Medicine

“We often read about the environmental and health impacts of food production in the US, but what about in rapidly growing China? What’s For Dinner? introduces us to the challenges of large-scale animal agriculture in China. It surveys the “big picture” – food shortages, industrialization, and environmental impact – through a set of clear, engaging interviews and personal stories. This is an excellent film for environmental studies or other students interested in the origins and impacts posed by animal agriculture in a global context.” -Christopher P. Schlottmann, Associate Director of Environmental Studies, New York University

“What’s For Dinner?” delivers an insightful presentation of the many challenges posed by China’s expanding animal agriculture.” - Peter J. Li, Associate Professor of East Asian Politics, University of Houston-Downtown

“I used What’s For Dinner? for the first time in my Animals in Commodities class in the Canisius College Anthrozoology Masters program last semester… The students found the film very useful in helping us to look at the connections between meat production and consumption, status, and globalization.” - Margo DeMello, Professor of Sociology, Cultural Studies and Anthropology, Canisius College and Central New Mexico Community College

Remembering Lin Zhao: A Media Review

Thursday, February 20th, 2014
Searching for Lin Zhao's Soul (dir. Hu Jie)

Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul (dir. Hu Jie)

Last December 16 marked the 81st anniversary of Lin Zhao’s birth (it’s technically the 82nd because although her birth certificate says 12/16/1932, her real birthday was 12/16/1931). Lin, a top student from Peking University, was imprisoned for defending students and leaders persecuted during Mao Zedong’s Anti-Rightist Movement in the late 1950s. A gifted writer, Lin composed endless articles and poems from her cell. Forbidden to use pens, she wrote using a hairpin dipped in her own blood. In 1968 she was executed, her tragic life lost to the margins of history.

Four decades after Lin’s execution, filmmaker Hu Jie filmed Searching For Lin Zhao’s Soul, a chronicle of Hu’s investigative journey to bring Lin’s story to light, uncovering the details of this forgotten woman’s fight for civil rights.

Hu Jie has collected multiple articles about the anniversary, many of which are published in particular relation to the recent news of former Red Guard Song Binbin’s apology for participating in the student movements that led to the death of her former teacher, Bian Zhongyun, at the start of the Cultural Revolution. This incident is documented in another documentary by Hu Jie, Though I Am Gone. Both Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul and Though I Am Gone are available as part of the dGenerate Films Collection.

The following articles provided by Hu are all in Chinese. The authors and titles are translated into English by Isabelle Tianzi Cai.

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Video Profile of “Trash-Talking” Filmmaker Wang Jiuliang

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

From ChinaFile, a video profile of independent director Wang Jiuliang, whose award-winning documentary Beijing Besieged by Waste is part of the dGenerate Films Collection:

Documentary filmmaker and photographer Wang Jiuliang spent four years, between 2008 and 2011, documenting over 460 hazardous and mostly illegal landfill sites around Beijing.

His award-winning film Beijing Besieged by Waste (2011) provoked intense public discussion and is widely credited with having prodded the Beijing municipal government into allocating 10 billion RMB (U.S.$1.65 billion) to cleaning up the local waste industry. Wang then revisited the landfills he had documented. He estimates that at least 80% of them have been shuttered or upgraded. “With his photos and film, Wang Jiuliang has single-handedly accomplished what many NGOs in China had worked hard toward for decades—raising public awareness and bringing about policy change,” says environmental activist and filmmaker Shi Lihong.

Wang is now at work on a new film, Plastic China, which focuses on China’s recycling of imported plastics and is scheduled for release this summer. China is the world’s largest recycler and imports about 70% of the recyclable plastics and e-waste on the global market. Wang spoke to ChinaFile Culture Editor Sun Yunfan in December 2013 in Hong Kong.

Punto de Vista Film Festival Celebrates Films of Pema Tseden

Monday, February 17th, 2014
Pema Tseden (Wanma Caidan)

Pema Tseden (Wanma Caidan)

The 2014 edition of the Punto de Vista Film Festival of Navarra, Spain, is an international seminar focusing on works of documentary from around the world. This year’s seminar spotlights the career of Tibet-based filmmaker Pema Tseden (Wanma Caidan) and his three feature films, The Silent Holy Stones, The Search, and Old Dog. (The latter two films are part of the dGenerate Films collection.)

As part of the program, the Festival commissioned a booklet featuring an interview with Pema Tseden by film scholar and critic Zhang Ling and an original essay appreciation of his films by filmmaker and critic Dan Sallitt. The following excerpt of Sallitt’s essay is reprinted here with permission of the Festival and the author:

Pema Tseden’s misfortune is that he will likely be pigeonholed for the foreseeable future as the most important Tibetan filmmaker; whereas he required only a few films to establish himself as one of the best and most confident filmmakers anywhere in the world.

His first feature, The Silent Holy Stones (2005), presents all the elements of Tseden’s style in mature form: a weighty compositional sense that combines spectacular depiction of landscape and a precise deployment of his human subjects; the use of strongly conceptual material in which the central concept is overstated and reiterated, both for comedy and as a distancing effect; a humorous use of repeated actions and fixity of behavior; a figural approach to performance that renders the difference between actors and non-actors immaterial; and a pessimistic vision of the frailty of spiritual values in the face of worldly desire.

2009’s The Search follows The Silent Holy Stones in its focus on the role of fiction and storytelling in our lives, but the later film veers away from conventional narrative and adopts an abstract, cyclical structure that seems at once primitive and experimental.

After this feint toward the boundaries of narrative, Tseden’s most recent film, Old Dog (2011), unexpectedly applies his approach and concerns to an elemental drama that, through the dogged, minimalist cadences of Tseden’s story construction and the grandeur of his compositions, acquires the force of mythology.

The Punto de Vista Film Seminar will be held from February 19-22 in Pamplona. Details here.

“Striking and Powerful:” Beijing Besieged by Waste Reviewed

Thursday, February 6th, 2014
Beijing Besieged by Waste (dir. WANG Jiuliang)

Beijing Besieged by Waste (dir. WANG Jiuliang)

In the new issue of the journal Environment, Space, Place, Lorna Lueker Zukas of National University reviews Wang Jiuliang’s Beijing Besieged by Waste, a “striking and powerful film reveals that garbage caused by unfettered production for local and global marketplaces is creating enormous problems for China:”

Wang’s documentary uses familiar subjects, trash, reclamation, and recycling, to illustrate the problem of too much; too much garbage, too much growth, and too much consumption. Beijing is showcased as the “poster-city” for the global problem of waste, a problem recognized by the World Bank as potentially undermining future growth and development. Globally, waste volumes are rapidly increasing, outstripping the rate of urbanization; this growth is occurring fastest not only in China, but also in other parts of East Asia, parts of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Wang’s images force viewers’ attention to the physical environment, the realities of endless material production, and the reduction of people to disposable status. He asks viewers to think about the connection between production and destruction. Waste in China and elsewhere is primarily a by-product of consumer-based lifestyles that drive much of the world’s capitalist economies; it is the most obvious and noxious by-product of a capital-intensive, resource-extracting, labor-abusing, consumer-based economic lifestyle. Wang’s images remind us that trash is not just trash; it morphs into greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and air pollution that make people ill. Unenforced regulations in the trash industry also provide spaces and places for the exploitation and degradation of workers. Beijing Besieged by Waste helps viewers to appreciate, however momentarily, the global context of waste and its connections to economies and local and global pollution.

Beijing Besieged by Waste is part of the dGenerate Films collection.

“Overwhelming Impact”: Review of Beijing Besieged by Waste

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

bsieg2In the new issue of the journal Environmental Philosophy, Ilan Saft of Pace University reviews Beijing Besieged by Waste. Excerpts:

The verbal information provided in Wang Jiuliang’s documentary, Beijing Besieged by Waste, is staggering: Beijing, with a population of twenty million, is surrounded by hundreds of 50-meter high garbage mountains and landfills… While these are the main informative details provided in the film, it is the force of the film’s images that produces its overwhelming impact. A new environment – the images show – has ben formed around the modernized city of Beijing. In this environment there is no ground; it is a new kind of multilayered landscape, a garbagescape, the product of daily life in a megalopolis and the working-and-living environment for tens of thousands of people…

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