Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

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?


Interview with Head of Beijing Independent Film Festival Li Xianting

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

By Kevin B. Lee

Originally published on Indiewire

Last Saturday China’s independent film community faced their latest setback when the Beijing Independent Film Festival was forced to cancel its public screenings upon pressure from local authorities. This was the third consecutive cancellation of a festival sponsored by the Li Xianting Film Fund, which has been organizing independent film screenings in Beijing for over a decade.

Since its inception, the Film Fund’s activities have faced scrutiny from government officials, as public film exhibitions in China are typically required to pass approval from the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television (SARFT). But with the tacit, unofficial approval of local authorities, the Film Fund was allowed to operate uninterrupted for its first seven years.


CinemaTalk: Conversation with Huang Ji, director of Egg and Stone

Friday, August 24th, 2012

By Kevin B. Lee

Last weekend the 9th Beijing Independent Film Festival opened with the domestic premiere of Egg and Stone, which won a Tiger Award for Best Feature Film at the Rotterdam International Film Festival earlier this year. The first feature directed by Huang Ji, the film is a loosely autobiographical account of a young girl’s traumatic experience of family sexual abuse in a rural village in Hunan province. The film was actually shot in Huang Ji’s home village.

Unfortunately, the screening of the film was interrupted by a power failure that shut down the venue, which occurred shortly after local officials requested the festival stop its activities, having not received official authorization to screen films. “I had prepared my heart for this possibility,” Huang Ji told me, “but I was still crushed when it happened.” The film was eventually screened in its entirety later that week at a private venue.

The following interview with Huang Ji took place at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in January. Interview translated by Heran Hao.


“Chinese Independent Filmmaking: Freedom is a State of Mind” Kevin Lee Interviewed in 3 dots water

Friday, April 20th, 2012

dGenerate’s own Kevin Lee was interviewed by Michèle Vicat of 3 dots water, a virtual publication of Chinese and global art. Discussing the origins and current state of affairs of contemporary Chinese documentary, as well as how and why dGenerate Films came to exist as it does, Kevin says of Chinese documentary films:

"Disorder" (dir. Huang Weikai)

What is interesting about these films is that they are by Chinese citizens who have become filmmakers. Their perspective is completely different. You really feel like you are watching from the inside, through the eyes of people who are personally invested. It is not a topical story, a sensational story that attracts western stereotypes about China. It is actually a very thorough, three-dimensional experience. You really get a sense of how these issues affect day-to-day life in China.


Beijing Besieged by Waste Screening at AAS Annual Meeting: Interview with Director Wang Jiuliang

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

By Christen Cornell


Note: Beijing Besieged by Waste will screen at the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) Film Expo, Friday March 16 2012 in the Sheraton Centre Toronto, as part of the AAS Annual Meeting. Q&A session to follow. The film is available as part of the dGenerate Films catalog.

Full schedule and details for the AAS Film Expo.

The Fringes of Beijing B02

In October 2008, photographer Wang Jiuliang began a project investigating waste disposal in and around Beijing. Following the trucks that collected his daily rubbish, he discovered eleven large-scale refuse landfills scattered around the close suburbs of the city, each one growing daily alongside the skyscrapers, housing developments, and general urban boom that surrounded them.


CinemaTalk: A Conversation with Filmmaker Ji Dan

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012
By Maya Eva Gunst Rudolph

Ji Dan

Originally from Heilongjiang, Ji Dan is a documentary filmmaker who has worked extensively in both China and Japan. Her past works include Spirit Home (2006), Dream of the Empty City (2007), and Spiral Staircase of Harbin (2008), which was awarded prizes at both the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival and the China Documentary Film Festival.

Ji Dan’s most recent work, When The Bough Breaks, is a remarkably intimate account of a family of migrant trash scavengers living in Beijing and the bitter struggle of two young girls to send their little brother to school, against all odds and in the wake of their older sister’s disappearance. The day after When The Bough Breaks made its North America premiere at MoMA’s Documentary Fortnight, I spoke to Ji Dan in New York about the family depicted in When The Bough Breaks, her unique approach to filming and getting involved in the lives of her subjects, her mutual appreciation of theater and documentary, and what it’s like being one of Chinese documentary’s few female directors.


CinemaTalk: Interview with Alison Klayman, director of “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry”

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

By Maya Eva Gunst Rudolph

Alison Klayman (

Alison Klayman is a journalist who, while living in China from 2006-2010, produced radio and television for news sources such as NPR’s “All Things Considered,” AP Television, Voice of America, Current TV, and CBC. She is the director of the documentary film Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, which won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Prize for Spirit of Defiance at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. I spoke with Alison at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah about the film’s trajectory, the role of social media in making bringing this story to life, and her working relationship with China’s most notorious artist and filmmaker. Thanks to Alison and her team for their cooperation.

dGenerate Films: Can you talk a little about the origins of your working relationship with Ai Weiwei and how the project got started?

Alison Klayman: I had been living in Beijing for about two years when my roommate, Stephanie Tung, who was working at Three Shadows [Photography Center, a gallery and cultural center in Caochangdi, Beijing] got me involved in an exhibition they were doing of Ai Weiwei’s photos from New York. The photos are kind of a”greatest hits” series of contemporary cultural figures in China and provided an interesting window into this cross-cultural understanding of New York that I was really drawn to. I was kind of underemployed at the time and Stephanie suggested I make a video to accompany the exhibition. Rong Rong [photographer and Three Shadows director] gave me the okay and I went from Three Shadows to Weiwei’s house with the camera already rolling. It was really natural and organic. I didn’t just show up at Weiwei’s door and say “I’m fascinated by you, I want to film you.” We finished the video and Weiwei liked. I think it showed who he really is – very charismatic and engaging, fun-loving, doesn’t take himself too seriously. And then projects just kept coming up, so I feel compelled to keep filming. That’s kind of the beauty of Beijing – it’s very open and you can easily fall into these kinds of projects unexpectedly.


Ai Weiwei: “Documentary is Just One Of My Tools”

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

Discussing his approach to documentary filmmaking, China’s most notorious dissident and artist Ai Weiwei was interviewed by filmmaker and scholar JP Sniadecki for CinemaScope.

Known internationally for his artistic and interdisciplinary projects, which have become inseparable from steadfast political convictions and consequences, Ai Weiwei here addresses his work as a documentary filmmaker (many of these films are available on youtube), his concept of “social investigations,” the line between documentary and performance art, and his collaboration with other filmmakers.

Writes Sniadecki:

It is clear that Ai’s outspoken internet postings and his activism contributed to his detention, but another related cause that has been less explored in overseas discussions is his role as a documentary filmmaker. Working with a production team organized through his Beijing studio – his residence and his main headquarters located in the northwest corner of the capital – Ai has released eight guerilla-style documentaries and many short online videos that, in their rough style and critical approach, seek to initiate a space of open inquiry and free speech around social issues in China. These goals may appear similar to those pursued by Chinese independent filmmakers such as Wang Bing, Zhao Liang, and Zhao Dayong, but Ai’s work is far more confrontational, far more directly political in function, and absolutely devoid of concern for both cinema aesthetics and the status of the artist. His are hard-hitting activist films that are shot in-situ, edited together swiftly, and then immediately posted online to contribute to his larger project of unmasking abuses of power and egregious cover-ups. Thus, his films are akin to the work of Guangzhou-based activist Ai Xiaoming’s films and Xu Xin‘s Karamay (2010), the powerful six-hour documentary about a tragic fire that claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent schoolchildren in an oil town in the northwestern province of Xinjiang (Ai’s studio staff actually helped Xu Xin post Karamay online). Yet the major difference here is that Ai’s interventionist filmmaking often compels him to puncture the body of the film itself by appearing on screen to present challenges to authorities in direct defiance of their power. In fact, what captivates and thrills Chinese audiences – the majority of whom view these films on laptops after downloading them for the brief window that the films remain undetected by internet police – is exactly the daring verbal assaults Ai hurls at police officers and officials who fail to respond to his demands for fairness, justice, and greater transparency.

The interview can be accessed here in its entirety.

CinemaTalk: A Conversation with Filmmaker Wu Wenguang on the Memory Project

Friday, December 16th, 2011

By Maya E. Rudolph

After his screening series premiering many works from the Getting the Past Out Loud: Memory Projects at New York University, I spoke with filmmaker and Memory Projects organizer Wu Wenguang about the project, a new generation of filmmakers, and his view on screening works in the US. The event was held at the NYU Center for Religion and Media and co-sponsored by the Department of Cinema Studies, with generous support from China House.

Special thanks to NYU Professors Angela Zito and Zhang Zhen for curating the program and arranging this interview with Wu Wenguang.

Wu Wenguang at NYU

dGF: When and how did the Memory Project begin?

Wu Wenguang: The project started last year. It was last summer that we had the opportunity to start this. It was during this time we first started going to villages to conduct interviews. It had to be summer, this was the ideal season for heading off to these villages. So, everyone headed off to their own villages, their hometowns, for these interviews. When they got back, everyone started to edit, give advice, collaborate. This is how we got started.

dGF: The majority of the people participating in this project as filmmakers are pretty young, born in the 80s or 90s. You’ve said that your generation’s view of cinema differs greatly from that of these young people. What do you feel you have to teach one another – what kind of exchange do you have?

WWG: These kids have a lot of confidence, real self-starters. I don’t know if I really can teach them much. We can simply work together. Sometimes, the people in these villages think I’ve taught them how to shoot and what to shoot. This isn’t the case; they’ve chosen how and what to shoot by themselves. What I have to teach them isn’t important. What is important is their own work and how they choose to conduct it.


CinemaTalk: Interview with Julian Ward and Song Hwee Lim, Editors of The Chinese Cinema Book

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

By Maya E. Rudolph

Song Hwee Lim and Julian Ward are editors of the recently published The Chinese Cinema Book (BFI and Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

Song Hwee Lim

Song Hwee Lim
is Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of Exeter. He is the author of Celluloid Comrades: Representations of Male Homosexuality in Contemporary Chinese Cinemas (University of Hawaii Press, 2006), co-editor of Remapping World Cinema: Identity, Culture and Politics in Film (Wallflower Press, 2006), and founding editor of the Journal of Chinese Cinemas. His next monograph, Tsai Ming-liang and a Cinema of Slowness, will appear in 2013.

Julian Ward

Julian Ward
is Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies attached to the Asian Studies department of the University of Edinburgh. He is Associate Editor of the Journal of Chinese Cinemas and has written articles on the representation in film in different eras of Communist China of the Sino-Japanese War. He is the author of Xu Xiake (1587–1641): The Art of Travel Writing (2000), a study of China’s foremost travel writer of the imperial period.

The Chinese Cinema Book, published earlier this year, provides a crucial and comprehensive guide to Chinese cinema history, contemporary scholarship, and a range of discussions of Chinese cinema in both national and trans-national contexts. Incorporating contributions from many leading scholars in the field of Chinese cinema studies, as well as writings from editors Lim and Ward, the book is divided into five thematic sections: Territories, Trajectories, Historiographies; Early Cinema to 1949; The Forgotten Period: 1949–80; The New Waves; and Stars, Auteurs and Genres.

_ _

dGF: In the prologue to “The Chinese Cinema Book,” you state that, despite its rather authoritative title, “this book does not pretend to offer a comprehensive coverage of Chinese cinema throughout its long and complicated history and multifarious manifestations,” but rather aims to provide “an overview of the ‘state of the field’.” In selecting works to represent the “state of the field” and assembling this most recent collection of scholarship, what was your approach to comprehensively taking the temperature of today’s climate for Chinese cinema studies?

SL and JW: First of all, we’re fully aware that this is an English-language publication designed to be a useful resource for academics and students, and that it should also appeal to a general readership. This means covering fairly familiar territories while introducing some new areas, and bearing in mind the availability of film materials on DVDs with English subtitles. In our other role as editors of the Journal of Chinese Cinemas, we are keenly attuned to the state of the field in terms of established and emerging scholarship, and we therefore attempt to reflect that in this book as well. Overall, we are pleased with the coverage of the book in terms of the range of topics and scholars.