Archive for the ‘Interviews’ 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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Chinese Cinema Author Expresses Changing Opinion of Indie Films

Thursday, August 28th, 2014
China on Film: A Century of Exploration, Confrontation and Controversy, by Paul Pickowicz

China on Film: A Century of Exploration, Confrontation and Controversy, by Paul Pickowicz

Recently China Digital Times interviewed Paul Pickowicz, Distinguished Professor of History and Chinese Studies at the University of California San Diego and author of China on Film: A Century of Exploration, Confrontation and Controversy (Rowan and Littlefield 2013). In a long and far-ranging conversation, Pickowicz reflects on his groundbreaking work at the China Film Archive in the 1980s, forging relationships with Chinese film scholars and filmmakers at a time when the Chinese film industry saw little interaction with the West.  He also shares his observations on different eras of Chinese film from the 1920s to the present.Of particular relevance to us at dGenerate is his answer to a question regarding his shifting opinion of the independent films of the past two decades:

CDT: Why did you initially deem the wave of underground and independent productions that came out shortly before and after 2000  “self-indulgent” and “trivial” but later change your mind saying “Chinese artists had earned the right to be self-indulgent” because of decades of “Maoist collectivism and asceticism.” 

PGP: When I first began to take a close look at large numbers of these films, documentaries and features alike, I was no doubt hoping for the same sort of independent, critical engagement with broad social issues that we see in the films made before 1949 by independent, non-state sector filmmakers.  I was looking for political critiques and at least some finger pointing.  I was interested in such issues as environmental degradation, recovering lost histories, child trafficking, corruption, and organized crime.  Eventually I found many significant works that treated such topics, films like Peng Tao’s Red Snow (Hongse xue, 2006), Liu Bingjian’s Crying Woman (Kuqi de nuren, 2002), and Ai Xiaoming’s Love and Care (Guan ai zhi jia, 2007).  But initially I looked randomly through our collection and struck by the large numbers of films that seemed very inwardly directed instead of outwardly directed.  I was looking for critical protest films but was confronted by very large numbers of films, especially documentaries, that screamed, “Look at me!”  They seemed very self-indulgent to me and I quickly tired of their repetitiveness.  But of course I soon realized that these films were highly political in their own ways.  They were, after all, a very logical response to decades of Maoist collectivism when people were supposed to “merge with the masses” and deny “self.”  Once a space suddenly opened up for reflections on self and individual identities, many, many young urbanites took the plunge.  They engaged with passion in what I call “identity searches.”

The full interview can be read at China Digital Times.

New Profile of Fearless Filmmaker Hu Jie

Friday, August 15th, 2014

 

Hu Jie (photo: Tania Branigan for The Observer)

Hu Jie (photo: Tania Branigan for The Observer)

At the Guardian, Tania Branigan interviews Hu Jie, director of many startling documentaries that reveal the untold stories of China’s 1950s and 1960s social reform campaigns, such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. His latest film, Spark, tells the story of students who published an underground newspaper criticizing the government during the Great Famine of the 1950s.

Branigan reports:

The subjects Hu tackles are so sensitive that some of those involved have not discussed them even with their families. He has persuaded a remarkable range of witnesses to go on camera; some are grateful for the chance to talk after years of suppressing the truth.

“I’m trying to save all of this material. If these people die, the memories are gone,” Hu said.

But some simply refuse to talk, and one of the interviews in Spark stops abruptly when the interviewee receives a phone call warning him not to speak. Such challenges help to explain why the film was five years in the making.

“I don’t start with a preconception of these films,” Hu said. “It’s a discovery process for me. I’ve always known there’s something there, but not quite what it was. In the process of making these films I find out.

“I knew there was a publication, but didn’t know what it was about; I just knew people died for it.

Earlier this year Hu was profiled by Matthew Bell for Public Radio International’s program The World.

Hu Jie’s films Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul, Though I Am Gone and East Wind State Farm are part of the dGenerate Films Collection.

 

 

“What’s For Dinner?” Tours China, Bringing Awareness of Food Industry

Friday, August 8th, 2014

10407297_10152597366086177_956937610111008085_nAt the website Our Hen House, Alessandra Seiter interviews Wanqing Zhou, Associate at the environmental policy organization Brighter Green. This summer Zhou organized an extensive screening and discussion tour of the film “What’s For Dinner” across China, accompanied by the film’s director Jian Yi. They have organized over a dozen screenings in six cities to date.

Zhou shares her experience showing the film:

OHH: Why did you want to bring What’s For Dinner? to China?

WZ: The issues discussed in What’s For Dinner? are very relevant to China. Without the public becoming aware of them, nothing in the country can be changed. People in China are just starting to be exposed to information regarding meat consumption, pollution, climate change, and health. However, the information tends to be quite general, and there is not yet a local documentary film that illustrates the problems. I think it’s very important the Chinese people see reflections and reevaluations of animal agriculture that come from within the society, as shown in What’s For Dinner?.

OHH: How have attendees responded to the film?

WZ: The attendees come from all educational and cultural backgrounds – from illiterate villagers to graduates from top universities, both Chinese and foreign-born. They’re attracted to the screenings by different facets of the topic, including health and nutrition, food safety, the environment, business opportunities, and more.

People have spoken highly of What’s For Dinner?, saying that it’s mild yet alerting, resonates with their daily life, and inspires change.

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Read the full interview at Our Hen House.

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.

Chinese Filmmaker Speaks Out on the Environmental Impact of Eating Meat

Thursday, August 7th, 2014
Jian Yi, director of "What's for Dinner?" (Image: BrighterGreenNY)

Jian Yi, director of “What’s for Dinner?” (Image: BrighterGreenNY)

China Dialogue recently published an interview with filmmaker Jian Yi, director of What’s For Dinner?, an investigative documentary on the meat industry in China and its effects on the country’s people and environment. The interview, conducted by Tom Levitt, includes the following highlights:

TL: What factors do you think are increasing meat consumption in China?

JY: I was amazed by the impact the meat industry has on the environment we live in, but what worried me more is that in China, with one fifth of the world’s people, meat production is going to expand and become more intensified in line with economic growth. There’s plenty of research showing that this, coupled with China’s huge population, will be hugely bad news for human health, animal welfare, food security, climate change, and many other fields. And the root cause of this is the changing values of the Chinese people.

TL: How aware do you think the Chinese people are of the issues covered in the film? 

JY: The vast majority aren’t aware of the effect of the meat industry on the environment. It’s important information, easily found online. So why haven’t they seen it? Humans can have a kind of selective blindness sometimes, not just in China but everywhere. And our social values still favour money, enjoyment, quick rewards. Civil society is weak, there’s little space for public debate, and many more obvious environmental issues aren’t being taken seriously either, never mind the more easily ignored impact of the meat industry.

The full interview can be accessed at China Dialogue.

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.

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?

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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.

Interview with Zhao Dayong on His New Film Premiering in Berlinale

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014
Shadow Days (dir. Zhao Dayong)

Shadow Days (dir. Zhao Dayong)

Zhao Dayong, director of acclaimed documentaries Ghost Town and Street Life, is interviewed by the South China Morning Post in advance of the world premiere of his film Shadow Days at the Berlin Film Festival:

You started out as a documentary filmmaker. Why have you moved to fiction?

In reality, there is not much of a difference between documentary filmmaking and fiction, because I use the images to express things I want to say and stories I want to tell. It is not easy to express thoughts in a comfortable way through a documentary – you have to remain truthful to the complexities of these people’s real lives. Fiction is more free from these constraints, and much more effective.

You’ve portrayed solitude, hopelessness and the strength of human resilience in your previous work. What topics are you dealing with inShadow Days?

The main topic of all my documentaries and films has never changed: lives becoming shallower through economic development, the faith in and culture of cash, the destruction of a natural form of living, and helplessness and ignorance. Shadow Days is the story of a boy returning to a place where he thought he could live safely and raise a child, but then it all goes wrong. [His character’s fate] is something that is inevitable because of ignorance

Read the rest of the interview at the South China Morning Post.

Zhao Dayong’s films Ghost Town and Street Life are part of the dGenerate Films collection.

dGenerate Films profiled in Agenda Beijing Magazine

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

In the current issue of Agenda Beijing Magazine, Laura Petryshen interviews dGenerate Films’ VP of Programming and Education Kevin B. Lee on the company’s work distributing Chinese independent films. Some excerpts:

How did you come to found dGenerate films?

When our founder Karin Chien came [back] to the US from [her first visit to] Beijing, she definitely needed someone to watch the movies, so I took on the task. Now when one of us goes to China, we each try to pick up as many movies as we can and it’s my job to watch them. So over the past 4-5 years I’ve seen 400 to 500 Chinese independent films. Of those we pick those that we think are the best and that are most likely to catch the interest of American audiences.

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CinemaTalk: Interview with Zhu Rikun, Curator of Jacob Burns “Hidden China” Series, on Ai Weiwei and Chinese Indie Filmmaking

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

This October the Jacob Burns Film Center presents “Hidden China,” a monthlong series of independent documentaries produced in China, selected Zhu Rikun, producer, programmer and founder of Fanhall Studio. Zhu Rikun is a major figure in contemporary Chinese independent film, having produced such acclaimed films as Karamay and Winter Vacation. Earlier in 2012 he served as an advisor on “Hidden Histories,” a series of Chinese independent documentaries co-curated by Gertjan Zuilhof and Gerwin Tamsma for the International Film Festival Rotterdam. The centerpiece of the series was a retrospective of the documentaries of Ai Weiwei. Many of those selections are included in the “Hidden China” series at the Jacob Burns Film Center.

dGenerate Films’ Kevin B. Lee recorded this interview with Zhu Rikun during the Rotterdam series, focusing on the significance of Ai Weiwei as a documentary filmmaker and how they reflect developments in documentary filmmaking, citizen journalism and freedom of information and expression in today’s China.

Interview transcribed by Stephanie Hsu.

Kevin Lee: Looking at Ai Weiwei and his films, it seems he’s made films in two different Chinas. We look at a movie like Fairytale or Ordos 100—these are documentaries about how the Chinese art world is one of unlimited money and prestige. It’s a world the ruling powers approve of, because they think it will help elevate China in the eyes of the world. And so they work with Ai Weiwei as a famous artist to help promote that view. At the same time, he makes these highly socially critical films, like Disturbing the Peace and One Recluse. How do you see the connection between these two different kinds of movies that he makes? Do you think they are all basically the same kind of film or are they very different?

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