Chinese Directors Win at HK Documentary Fest, Say They Enjoy Freedom

By Kevin Lee

Zhou Hao presents his film "The Transition Period" at the China Documentary Festival in Hong Kong (photo: Associated Press)

The 2011 Chinese Documentary Festival in Hong Kong concluded earlier this month with awards given to The Transition Period by Zhou Hao and One Day in May by Ma Zhandong. The Transition Period will be distributed later this year by dGenerate, which already distributes one of Zhou’s earlier films, Using.

In a report on the festival for the Associated Press, Min Lee describes The Transition Period as “a rare, fascinating look at how the Chinese government operates:”

Guo Yongchang, who is currently serving a seven-year prison term for accepting bribes of 2 million Chinese yuan ($310,000), is shown discussing how to split tax revenue with lower-level officials, meeting with constituents as well as smearing birthday cake onto the face of an American businessman and wining and dining with Taiwanese businessmen in another drunken episode. A secretly recorded sound section shows Guo ordering an aide to return certain bribes.

Zhou said he met Guo at a dinner and the former official quickly agreed to be filmed. He said he got full access – although avoided shooting Guo’s family life. Guo has seen the documentary – minus the secretly taped section – and didn’t object, Zhou said.

When asked if he worried if such a film could cause trouble for him with the authorities, Zhou responded: “my understanding is that you can basically film everything you want to film. The key question is whether you want to shoot something. If you want to shoot something, you can definitely do it.”

In the context of recent troubles experienced by socially critical artists such as Ai Weiwei, Zhou said that he and other artists have benefitted from the sacrifices made by such figures. “There are many people taking the heat for us … What should we be afraid of?” Zhou said. Zhou also cited the example of Xu Xin, whose six-hour Karamay investigates a heavily censored story about 300 children who died in a fire while performing for government officials.

Fellow director Ma Zhandong agreed with Zhou’s position: “If you like what you are doing, you can overcome the hurdles.” Ma’s film One Day in May, which won the festival’s top prize, follows a family’s recovery from the deadly 2008 earthquake in southwestern Sichuan conference. Its unflinching depiction of the social and economic fallout from the earthquake recalls that of the award-winning film 1428 by Du Haibin, which is part of the dGenerate catalog.

Read the full version of the Associated Press report.

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