On his blog Screening China, Dan Edwards reports on his meeting with Ai Xiaoming, professor at Sun Yat Sen University and the maker of numerous investigative documentaries. In addition to interviewing Ai, Edwards has the special experience of following her at work, as she visits the home of dissident artist Yan Zhengxue, who was released from a three-year prison sentence in 2009. Edwards writes the following on Ai’s documentary filmmaking technique and philosophy:
I was impressed by how quickly Ai Xiaoming cut to the chase with her work, which seemingly relied on no preparation – she simply grabbed her camera and started rolling. It seems the camera for her is simply a tool – perhaps “a weapon” to quote another local filmmaker Ou Ning – which Ai Xiaoming uses to capture her subject’s testimonies. She appeared uninterested in questions of style or aesthetics. When I chatted to her later that night about the decade Zhao Liang spent filming the predicament of petitioners in Beijing for his documentary Petition, Ai Xiaoming commented that she could never spend so long on a project. “Our aim is to change things,” she said firmly, which I took to mean she prefers to get stories into the public domain as quickly as possible in order to try and effect change – or at least contribute to ongoing campaigns.
Edwards also writes about Yan Zhengxue’s life and work, including the events leading to Yan’s arrest and an account of his near-death experience in prison. Attention is paid to a couple of sculptures of young women activists who were imprisoned and executed during the Cultural Revolution. One is Lin Zhao, who spent eight years in prison writing essays and poetry, using her own blood as ink. Lin Zhao is the subject of Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul, a documentary directed by Hu Jie, a frequent collaborator of Ai Xiaoming. The film investigates the suppressed history of Lin Zhao, a figure largely unknown to many Chinese but whose tragic life story is an inspiration to many activists today. Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul is considered a landmark in investigative documentary in China, especially in breaking the taboos of China’s recent past.
dGenerate is pleased to announce that it will be distributing three of Hu Jie’s films: Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul, Though I Am Gone, and East Wind Farm Camp (aka National East Wind Farm). All three films were included in “Sixty Years of Unsanctioned Memories in the People’s Republic,” a list of films dealing with forgotten or suppressed histories and marginal, dispossessed social groups in China. It is our hope that such important films, including Ai Xiaoming’s, will become more accessible to audiences around the world.