In the New Statesman, Chinese film producer, critic and programmer Zhu Rikun reflects on his turbulent experiences working with Chinese independent films, and the current state of “independent” filmmaking. Excerpts:
From 2000, changes in digital film technology and the development of the internet made production simpler and boosted independent film-making. Many works of value emerged. Ultimately, though, this lively period did not produce plentiful results. In the past two years, independent film-making has been lacklustre.
Nowadays, poignant and outstanding films cannot be distributed, such as Karamay, Xu Xin’s documentary about the 1994 theatre fire where audience members were not allowed to leave until Communist Party officials had been evacuated. Documentaries from Ai Weiwei’s studio rely on the internet and free DVDs to get a reaction. Few film festivals and screenings are interested. In academic and independent film circles they are seldom discussed. Disturbing the Peace (in which Ai confronts government officials about the arrest of his assistant) was watched widely because it was put on the internet. Some artists on the relative fringes of filmmaking, such as Ai Xiaoming, find it hard to get their works shown, because a lot of her films are about sensitive incidents or people.
At present, the best that artists can do is to persist as far as they can within the limitations of the system, but the results often lack creativity. Optimism would be misplaced. I still doubt whether there is a way out when there is clearly a lack of ideas or skills and when there is such a restrictive environment. Things will change if genuinely independent film-makers leave this circle and take responsibility themselves. Only then will there be a glimmer of hope.
Read the full article on The New Statesman.