Jia Zhangke’s New Film Seeks a Wider Audience in China

by Isabella Tianzi Cai

Jia Zhangke, director of I Wish I Knew and Dong (photo: AFP)

In an article for the American Free Press, D’Arcy Doran recaps some of Jia Zhangke‘s latest accolades: he received this year’s life achievement award at the Locarno Film Festival; the Museum of Modern Art in New York City also held a retrospective on him in March this year. But luckier than other contemporary arthouse Chinese directors, several of whom have also been issued bans for making films, Jia is having his documentary I Wish I Knew screened at the World Expo in Shanghai, where an estimated number of 200,000 visitors will have seen the film by the end of October.

In terms of content, I Wish I Knew resonates with the rest of Jia’s oeuvre. As Doran puts it, this documentary “tackles a theme that is present in much of Jia’s work — global forces turning individuals’ lives upside down.” But in Jia’s own words, the film “touches many sensitive issues.” Jia thinks that open acknowledgment and expression of these sensitive issues, in this case through the wide reception of the film, ought to help Chinese people forge “a common sense of Chinese society.”

In terms of style, I Wish I Knew is consistent with Jia’s other works as well. Its “long scenes and lush cinematography” are unmistakably the pace and look of his films. They are designed to aid a contemplative gaze at China’s rapid development. “When you are observing a fast-changing society,” Jia said. “You need to pay full attention.”

dGenerate Films is the distributor of another one of Jia’s documentaries, Dong, which bears all of the aforementioned signatures of Jia. In Dong, Jia follows painter Liu Xiaodong as the subject of the film. He shoots everything in realistic settings as the painter works, and speaks about his interpretations of the role of an artist constantly. Jia embeds Liu’s thought-provoking monologues within an unforgettable background of semiotically rich images.

View excerpts from Dong below, and find out more about it here.

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