The Potential (and Perils) of Online Video for the d-Generation

Super, Girls! (dir. Jian Yi)

This recent article on CNN caught our eye, as it deals with what may be an emerging next wave of the digital filmmaking in China we at dGenerate heartily support. The article cites the explosion of user generated content on Chinese video sites like Youku and Tudou, which one analyst describes as “An unleashing of creativity like the world has never seen.”

Here’s the skinny from the article:

While the bulk of the content on popular Chinese video sites consists of domestic and foreign movies and television programs, a growing share of material is coming from Chinese who are picking up cameras, filming the world around them and sharing it with others for the very first time.

This may not seem extraordinary elsewhere, yet the growth of user-generated content represents a major shift in the way China watches itself and the way the world watches China.

That last line resonates a lot with the mission of China’s dGeneration of filmmakers; thanks to the accessibility of digital video and their own mission to document issues that couldn’t pass through state censorship, these filmmakers brought a radical new element to China’s art and media landscape. However, the ongoing challenge for these filmmakers has been to break out of a small, relatively confined circuit of underground festivals and other distribution channels in China, so that a greater audience can access these films and the important stories they uncover.

Along these lines, it’s easy to envy the success stories mentioned in the CNN article and the audiences of millions that they seem to reach with ease. One in particular had me thinking of our film Super, Girls!, Jian Yi’s documentary on would-be pop stars auditioning for China’s American Idol. Reading the following, I wonder if the subjects of Super, Girls! might have tried a different route to singing stardom.

Ren Yueli is now on the verge of stardom after pedestrians filmed the 21-year-old performing in a Beijing subway station and shared the clips on the Internet. The videos have been viewed over 3 million times.

Ren sang in the station for four years, sending most of the money she collected back to her disabled parents in the nearby province of Hebei. She is now working on signing a record contract and makes regular appearances on local TV shows.

But more importantly, can the same success be found online by the socially-minded dGeneration filmmakers? There’s a difference between posting clips of cute girls singing and posting videos dealing with issues like urban displacement or gay rights. Still, the article suggests that there’s a place for such content on these video sites, so long as it’s presented in a way that subtly cloaks its content to avoid the censors:

A 64-minute animated movie titled The War of Internet Addiction is one example. The film, using footage from virtual game World of Warcraft, criticizes Internet censorship in China among other themes. Since it was posted on Youku.com on January 21, more than 10 million have watched.

Would many of the films we distribute pass muster on the internet in China, attracting audiences while avoiding censors? It remains to be seen. But these sites are most definitely a portal for these artists to seek an audience for their work, if they can figure out the rules of engagement. And those rules are always changing…

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