Archive for the ‘Other’ 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.


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.


China Onscreen Biennale Brings a Diverse Program of Chinese Media Arts to Los Angeles, New York, and DC

Monday, October 31st, 2016

by Maya Rudolph

Screen Shot 2016-10-30 at 4.47.50 PMDuring the fall of 2016, the “best of” Chinese cinema and media art is coming to Los Angeles, New York, and Washington DC with the China Onscreen Biennale. Now in its third iteration, the COB boasts an energetically interdisciplinary program of new Chinese cinema, restored classics, and a broad range of off-screen events. Without a jury or competition element, the COB presents a creative, independently-curated series that includes premieres of new works by Pema Tseden, Ying Liang, Jia Zhangke, and Zhao Liang; a series of site-specific “sound mandalas”; an artist exchange project rooted in Dunhuang, one of the Silk Road’s most historically significant areas; group meditations; and discussions with filmmakers and scholars designed to encourage open conversation between American and Chinese film communities.

From Gu Changwei's N39º54? 12.56? E116º23? 14.20?

From Gu Changwei’s N39º54? 12.56? E116º23? 14.20?

The COB program is selected by chief curator Cheng-Sim Lim and a committee representing the COB’s Presenting Partners, which also host many of the screenings and include UCLA, The Freer and Sackler Galleries, the Asia Society, and more. Lim, an independent curator, became chief curator of the COB after being approached by Susan Pertel Jain, Executive Director of the UCLA Confucius Institute, with an idea to create a film series with a fresh take on Chinese media and performance. “It was always important that the series be independently curated,” Lim said, “We really feel we have the opportunity to do things differently with this project.” The COB’s Chinese title is a reminder of this commitment to keeping the program active and open; a poetic license that activates the Chinese noun “screen” into a verb. In designing the COB, Lim also considered the cities in the US with nuanced audiences and varying relationships to China, “At first we thought about audiences in LA and DC. LA is the film capital and DC is the political capital, so these are important cities to be in dialogue with China and Chinese films.” Three editions in, the COB has added New York to the lineup, and cultivated a city-specific program that presents work from China and China itself “not as an object,” said Lim, “but as part of a specific exchange, a conversation.”

From Jia Zhangke's "The Hedonists"

From Jia Zhangke’s “The Hedonists”

While the COB’s 2016 film program presents diverse approaches to story, a reach for identity—shaped by geography, family, or a shifting economy—is a key element of many films and reflects what Lim called “a plurality of voices coming from China.” Zhao Liang’s stunning documentary Behemoth crawls deep into the belly of the beast fueling development in Inner Mongolia, while Wang Bing’s Ta’ang, shows life in a refugee camp on the Sino-Myanmar border. In his new short film The Hedonists, Jia Zhangke attempts levity and drone photography in the face of hard times for coal miners in Shanxi Province; and knotty questions of Tibetan identity and family shape Sonthan Gyal’s River and Liu Jie’s De Lan. At the COB’s opening night at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, a series of video works by Gu Changwei was enriched by a conversation with the artist and the West Coast premiere of Pema Tsenden’s Tharlo, a tragicomic story of ID cards, karaoke, and loss in remote Qinghai Province.

The COB’s thoughtful promotion of diversity in art and filmmaking from today’s China creates engaging and often mesmerizing access points for American audiences to connect to China. “From the very beginning, we thought, let’s put this work up [on the screen] without a specific frame on it,” said Lim, “Let’s approach this work as film lovers, with an open mind, and see what happens.”

The COB will run until November 14 in Los Angeles, November 3rd to December 1st in New York, and November 12 to 27th in Washington DC. More info is available on their website at

dGenerate Titles Reviewed by VCinema

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

Three dGenerate titles were recently reviewed by VCinema, a podcast and blog devoted to Asian film, media, and culture.

Pema Tseden's Tharlo

Pema Tseden’s ‘Tharlo’

Writing for VCinema, Rowena Santos Aquino reviewed Pema Tseden’s Tharlo, the story of a Tibetan shepherd whose isolated routine and sense of identity is irrevocably displaced when he travels to the city in search of an ID card and stumbles into contradictions of “the opposing existential temporalities of bureaucracy/imposed history…and of land/localness…and how this opposition impinges on identity.” Addressing Tseden’s heartbreaking story of misplaced affections and broken assumptions, Aquino writes “The staggering irony about Tharlo’s journey to obtain his I.D. card, a document whose purpose is to disclose and/or confirm one’s identity in image and words, is that in the course of doing so, he loses the identity that he has …this irony is the power of Tseden’s film.”

Wang Bing's 'Three Sisters'

Wang Bing’s ‘Three Sisters’

Aquino’s review of Wang Bing’s documentary Three Sisters offers reflections not only into Wang’s film on “shifting…compositions of family,” but also into the “mosaic” that makes up Wang’s eclectic canon of work. In describing the story of three young sisters who shuffle them between family members’ homes amid stark economic hardship, Aquino praises Wang’s filmic rhythm as “improvisatory and loose” and comments that the low camera angles Wang employs to create spatial congruency with his young subjects serves as “not just a technical decision but also like a tacit gesture of solidarity, or at the very least empathy, in the midst of the sisters’ uncertain everyday and destitute environment.”

John Berra reviewed Yang Mingming’s Female Directors, a mockumentary investigation into the close, albeit fractious, relationship between two young film school grads, their “taboo breaking” antics, and the omnipresent camera they wield like a weapon. Addressing topics that range from the oft-mentioned “Mr. Short” or “Short Stuff”—a lover and benefactor on whom both the women rely—to the true nature of honesty and “relative honesty,” “Female Directors is a candid meta-commentary that deconstructs not only its titular pair’s varied, at times contradictory responses to male-dominated society but the methods used to examine such conditions in the digital age.

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.


2016 Chinese Visual Festival in London, May 11-20

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

Tharlo (dir. Pema Tseden)

The 2016 Chinese Visual Festival program is one of the strongest yet for this long-running series featuring an exciting range of award-winning films and video art from around the Chinese language speaking world, plus a line-up of fascinating high-profile guests from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. With Q&As, panels, receptions and other events, there’s plenty of chances to meet the filmmakers and artists, and to get involved in learning more about the topics and themes behind the works.

The 2016 C schedule may be accessed here.

Call for Papers: Unthinking Asian Migration

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014


Un-thinking Asian Migrations: Spaces of flows and intersections

25-26 August 2014, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

The Asian Migrations Research Theme is a collective of scholars working in Asian Studies at the University of Otago. The Asian Migrations Research Theme focuses on movements of peoples and ideas––past and present––in East, South, and South-East Asia and into the Pacific (encompassing the Pacific Islands, Australia, and New Zealand). It engages with the fields of diaspora, intercultural, global, and transnational studies, which have grown over the last twenty years to become key frameworks for understanding culture beyond the boundaries of one nation. We see significant shortcomings in the current theories and methodologies of Asian migration and diaspora and especially in their application to the Asia-Pacific region. Our focus on Asian migrations allows us to highlight and address these shortcomings and to develop new approaches. The goal of the Theme is to develop a theoretical and methodological framework for understanding the Asia-Pacific region as comprised by movements of peoples, ideas, and commodities.

Ex-Red Guard Regrets Notorious Killing in Cultural Revolution

Monday, January 20th, 2014
"Though I Am Gone" (dir. Hu Jie)

“Though I Am Gone” (dir. Hu Jie)

From the New York Times, Jan 13 2014, by Chris Buckley:

Nearly half a century after Bian Zhongyun was beaten, kicked, tormented and left to die, bloody and alone, at the Beijing girls’ school where she was deputy principal, a daughter of the Communist Party elite has offered public penance — of a kind that instantly brought controversy — for her part in one of the most notorious killings of the Cultural Revolution…The apology from Song Binbin, reported by The Beijing News on Monday, quickly drew attention and was featured on many Chinese news websites. Here was a daughter of a veteran revolutionary apologizing for what has been widely described as the first killing of a teacher in the decade-long Cultural Revolution.


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.


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:


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…)