Archive for the ‘Other’ Category

The Beijing Independent Film Festival Survives

Friday, August 30th, 2013
Guests register in the Fanhall Cafe at the opening day of the 10th Beijing Independent Film Festival

Guests register in the Fanhall Cafe at the opening day of the 10th Beijing Independent Film Festival (photo: BIFF)

By Lydia Wu

Note: The following report was written at the request of the Li Xianting Film Fund, organizers of the Beijing Independent Film Festival, as a statement of record on the proceedings of this year’s Festival.

The 10th Beijing Independent Film Festival opened on August 23, 2013, with nearly 300 participants, including an assemblage of directors, journalists, audiences, programmers and film scholars who are interested in the Chinese independent filmmaking circle. Before the opening of the BIFF, the organizers had been negotiating with local authorities who would not allow any unsanctioned collective cultural events to happen. The authorities had given notice to the organizers that there was no possibility to hold their festival in Beijing. After a tedious and time-consuming negotiation, both the police and the organizers finally reached an agreement that the opening ceremony could take place in Fanhall (a cafe and multipurpose cultural space run by the Li Xianting Film Fund, which is also the sponsor of the BIFF).

On the surface, the opening was different from the scene last year, when policemen in plainclothes showed up to restrict the numbers of attendees and a mysterious power cut disrupted the opening screening, leaving festivalgoers outside waiting for several hours.  The opening ceremony went smoothly this year, from the guest registration and opening speech to the gathering of directors and guests. But the opening screening didn’t proceed. Under pressure from authorities, the festival couldn’t give a clear announcement of what would happen next.

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Chinese Reality #28: Some Actions which Haven’t Been Defined Yet in the Revolution

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

To commemorate the film series Chinese Realities / Documentary Visions at the Museum of Modern Art (May 8-June 1), each day this month this blog will publish a brief primer on one of the 28 films selected in the series.

Today’s film:

images

Some Actions which Haven’t Been Defined Yet in the Revolution (dir. Sun Xun)

2011. China. Directed by Sun Xun.

MoMA program description:

This complex, beautifully rendered woodprint animation—made using a method that was popular in the decades following the 1949 formation of the Peoples Republic of China—presents a dark portrait of the contemporary world.

Excerpts from select reviews and writings:

For Mainland Chinese viewers who are new to Sun Xun’s work, Some Actions Which Haven’t Been Defined Yet In The Revolution offers an unforgettable experience, akin to a waking dream. (more…)

Chinese Reality #27: Though I Am Gone

Monday, May 27th, 2013

To commemorate the film series Chinese Realities / Documentary Visions at The Museum of Modern Art (May 8-June 1), each day this month this blog will publish a brief primer on one of the 28 films selected in the series.

Today’s film:

Though I Am Gone (dir. Hu Jie)

Though I Am Gone (dir. Hu Jie)

Wo sui si qu (Though I Am Gone)

2007. China. Directed by Hu Jie.

MoMA program description:

The documentaries of Hu Jie, China’s most fearless historical filmmaker, probe lost stories of the nation’s revolutionary past. His profile of 85-year-old Wang Qingyao reveals how Wang extemporaneously performed the role of documentarian when his wife, the school teacher Bian Zhongyun, was beaten to death by her students as an accused reactionary during the Cultural Revolution. Wang’s photos of the incident emerge as a historical precursor to the contemporary documentary movement in its efforts to record social injustices and marginalized figures.

Excerpts from select reviews and writings:

“Because the Chinese official authority does not want us to remember the history, we non-official people should remember on our own.”

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Chinese Reality #26: The Questioning

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

To commemorate the film series Chinese Realities / Documentary Visions at the Museum of Modern Art (May 8-June 1), each day this month this blog will publish a brief primer on one of the 28 films selected in the series.

Today’s film:

The Questioning (dir. Zhu Rikun)

The Questioning (dir. Zhu Rikun)

Cha fang (The Questioning)

2013. China. Directed by Zhu Rikun.

MoMA program description:

As a producer, festival programmer, and distributor, Zhu Rikun has long served as a bastion of China’s independent documentary movement. On July 25, 2012, he visited three human rights workers in Jiangxi province and was questioned by local police. Zhu turns their encounter into a real-time demonstration of civil disobedience, deconstructing the logic of interrogation.

Excerpts from select reviews and writings:

In this cramped space-time, the obviously biased police control turns into a scene from the theatre of the absurd around a misunderstanding about Zhu Rikun’s nationality. (more…)

Chinese Reality #25: Disturbing the Peace

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

To commemorate the film series Chinese Realities / Documentary Visions at the Museum of Modern Art (May 8-June 1), each day this month this blog will publish a brief primer on one of the 28 films selected in the series.

Today’s film:

Lao ma ti hua (Disturbing the Peace)

Ai-Weiwei-Disturbing-the-Peace

Disturbing the Peace (dir. Ai Weiwei)

2010. China. Directed by Ai Weiwei.

Artist and social activist Ai Weiwei has made several documentaries about his activities, but nowhere is he as prominent as in this chronicle of his troubles with local authorities during a trip to Chengdu in 2009. Traveling to support a detained civil rights advocate investigating corruption related to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Ai is assaulted in his hotel room and arrested by police. His subsequent investigation is both an unprecedented object lesson in civil rights self-defense and something akin to performance art, as he confronts the justice system to a breathtaking degree.

Excerpts from select reviews and writings:

In the fall of 2009, Chinese movie theatres débuted “The Founding of a Republic,” a big-budget political extravaganza to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the Chinese Revolution. Around the same time, in no theatres anywhere, Ai Weiwei put out his own film entitled “Disturbing the Peace,” a no-budget documentary shot with a handheld camera, which documented a bizarre day in Chengdu, in which Ai, the lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, and others try to find out what happened to one of the artist’s assistants, after she disappeared into police custody following a raid on her hotel room. (In Chinese, the film is known as “Laoma Tihua.”) It is less a film than a visual record of a Sisyphean trip through the justice system.

- Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, April 4, 2011

Watching that movie, I’m pretty sure my jaw was open the entire time.

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CinemaTalk: Interview with Yang Lina, director of Longing for the Rain

Friday, May 24th, 2013

by Xu Jia and Kevin B. Lee

Longing for the Rain (dir. Yang Lina)

Longing for the Rain (dir. Yang Lina)

Making documentaries since 1996, director Yang Lina was first recognized for her intimate record of a group of retired seniors in a Beijing residential community in Old Men (1999), with which she swept almost every top award in documentary film festivals all over the world. Later on, she continued to amaze  audiences and professionals with other documentaries like The Love Story of Lao An (2008). Earlier, she also appeared in Jia Zhangke’s Platform (2000) as an actress.

Longing for the Rain marks Yang Lina’s progression from documentary to feature filmmaking. In IFFR 2013, some adored this film as a daunting portrayal of a well-off desperate housewife hungry for unattainable sex and the explicit sexual scenes in her wild dreams were just unprecedented in Chinese cinema – this film showed the sexual audacity and awkwardness of the rising new rich, the emptiness of a fidgeting soul and the impossibility of self-help at a certain period of one’s life, by a female director, from China – it was a breath of fresh air. (more…)

Chinese Reality #24: Longing for the Rain

Friday, May 24th, 2013

To commemorate the film series Chinese Realities / Documentary Visions at the Museum of Modern Art(May 8-June 1), each day this month this blog will publish a brief primer on one of the 28 films selected in the series.

Today’s film:

Longing for the Rain (dir. Yang Lina)

Longing for the Rain (dir. Yang Lina)

Chunmeng (Longing for the Rain)

2013. China. Directed by Yang Lina. With Siyuan Zhao, Jia Fu, Pong paz roj Dej.

MoMA program description:

Over the last 15 years, Yang Lina made her name as one of China’s most notable women documentarians. Her first narrative feature, in which a Beijing housewife is seduced by a mysterious phantom lover who threatens to destroy her comfortable middle-class life, is a daring hybrid of genres, mixing an erotic ghost story with a deeply personal religious quest. Yang’s surreal depiction of female sexuality is made even stranger by moments of social documentary, yielding a highly original vision of subjective desires commingling with China’s contemporary reality.

Excerpts from select reviews and writings:

The film reveals an urban middle-class malaise which is rarely touched upon in Chinese cinema, be it mainstream or independent: the former mostly subject female characters as either lovelorn figures in romantic dramas or comedies, while the latter usually situate women as individuals caught in the maelstrom of social changes sweeping across a country rushing towards its embrace of a market economy. Female physical desire has largely been marginalized, Yang said.

- Clarence Tsui, The Hollywood Reporter

(more…)

Chinese Reality #23: Tape

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

To commemorate the film series Chinese Realities / Documentary Visions at the Museum of Modern Art (May 8-June 1), each day this month this blog will publish a brief primer on one of the 28 films selected in the series.

Today’s film:

Tape (dir. Li Ning)

Tape (dir. Li Ning)

Jiao dai (Tape)

2010. China. Directed by Li Ning.

MoMA program description:

Avant-garde dancer Li Ning documents five years of his struggle to balance his career as a choreographer with a dance troupe of committed college students, and his responsibilities as a son, husband, and father. The artist’s life becomes intertwined with the film and with his own obsessions. Tape utilizes a variety of approaches, including first-person documentary, guerilla street video, and even homemade CGI, to produce an uncanny portrait of a private life enacted in public.

TAPE (Dir. Li Ning) trailer from The dGenerate Films Collection on Vimeo.

Excerpts from select reviews and writings:

We can perhaps say that, though the word is derogatory in meaning, “absurdity” is indicative of China’s final arrival at the dawn of post-modernity. Perhaps no film exemplified this theme more comprehensively than Tape, contemporary avant-garde dancer Li Ning’s five year chronicle of his personal life, alternating between his struggles with two types of “family”: his oft-neglected wife, son and mother; and his enthusiastic but unstable dance troupe comprised of college students. Made amidst a massive urban renovation project performed on his hometown of Jinan, the film is a postmodernist collage of cinéma vérité-style filming of Li’s interactions with his family, direct cinema-style filming of civic incidents, such as three men holding down a woman as her store is shut down, self-reflexive confessions, scripted voice-over narration, computerized special effects, experimental mise-en-scene, dream sequences, dialectical editing, and so on. The film plays like a fever dream of the artist’s life that gradually descends into nightmare. (more…)

Chinese Reality #22: When Night Falls

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

To commemorate the film series Chinese Realities / Documentary Visions at the Museum of Modern Art(May 8-June 1), each day this month this blog will publish a brief primer on one of the 28 films selected in the series.

Today’s film:

When Night Falls (dir. Ying Liang)

When Night Falls (dir. Ying Liang)

Wo hai you hua yao shuo (When Night Falls)

2012. China. Directed by Ying Liang.

MoMA program description:

Through his four narrative features and numerous shorts, Ying Liang utilizes low-budget digital video and observational documentary techniques to produce withering portraits of ordinary Chinese caught in webs of injustice. Inspired by the 2008 case of a young man’s murder of six Shanghai police officers, Ying’s newest feature focuses on the killer’s mother, whose own life is thrown into disarray by both the brutality of the criminal justice system and the netizens who oppose it. Uncommonly attentive to its mostly mute heroine, the film is a quiet plea for humanism amid forces that breed its opposite.

Excerpts from select reviews and writings:

The facts of the case are well known; it’s no spoiler to say that, despite Wang’s efforts, her son was executed, and the scene in which Wang learns this is a quiet masterpiece of imagination. Her gestures—drinking from a teapot, tearing leaves from a calendar—have both a spontaneous nobility and a futile comedy that are as grand and as poignant as a scene from Griffith. “When Night Falls” is a work of memory, reconstruction, and empathy that blends a coolly analytical style with a fierce yet quiet passion. Its precise and intimate scope, its canny sense of refracted representations, turns its lightly idealized modernism into a powerful version of political documentary. No wonder the Chinese government is unhappy with it.

- Richard Brody, The New Yorker

Part of what makes When Night Falls excel as a work of cinema, as well as a political intervention, comes from Ying’s harnessing of isolation and pathos for the express purpose of displaying, through spatial articulation and physical bombardment, what it feels like when the entire apparatus of the Chinese government bears down on a lone individual. (more…)

Chinese Reality #21: Petition

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

To commemorate the film series Chinese Realities / Documentary Visions at the Museum of Modern Art(May 8-June 1), each day this month this blog will publish a brief primer on one of the 28 films selected in the series.

Today’s film:

Petition (dir. Zhao Liang)

Petition (dir. Zhao Liang)

Shang fang (Petition)

2009. China. Directed by Zhao Liang.

MoMA program description:

Filmed over the course of 12 years, Zhao Liang’s landmark documentary explores the world of petitioners who travel to Beijing to seek justice back in their hometowns. Zhao uses secret cameras to capture a bureaucracy that leaves people waiting for years for their cases to be heard. The film takes a startling self-reflexive turn when Zhao becomes entangled in a heartbreaking tragedy that unfolds between a petitioner and her daughter. This is a stirring achievement in both journalistic dedication and documentary ethics. The 5-hour long version of Petition captures in greater detail and complexity the stories of the many petitioners who seek justice. The two-hour version of Petition, edited for international festivals and television, offers a dramatically condensed version of Zhao’s five-hour investigation, revealing how the observational aesthetic is reconfigured for general audiences.

Excerpts from select reviews and writings:

“They are the dregs of society. Scorned and maligned, they live a dangerous existence in crude shantytowns as they pursue their quixotic quest.

(more…)