The Cinema Pacific Film Festival’s special series of Chinese cinema opens today and runs until April 10 at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Full screening details can be found here. dGenerate titles Disorder, 1428 and Oxhide II are featured in the program, with Oxhide II director Liu Jiayin appearing in person.
We caught up with Shelly Kraicer, Cinema Pacific’s first Festival Fellow, who curated the program, to get his thoughts on the series and the films he selected.
dGF: There are dozens if not hundreds of great Chinese independent films made in the past several years. How did you decide on the films for this program? What did you want to convey about Chinese independent film through your selections?
SK: I wanted to pick films that represented a range of different kinds of filmmaking that independent Chinese artists are doing now: experimental fiction, experimental documentary, on-the-spot documentary (jishi jilupian) and something unique from recent fiction film. Liu Jiayin is the most exciting young exponent of something like experimental-narrative-documentary-style hybrid filmmaking, now, so her two Oxhide films will already cover almost the entire range of films I was looking for. They’re challenging, and they’re fun, and they are very important.
As luck would have it, Ms Liu will be in the USA this week, so she can come join us to present her films at the University of Oregon and meet the audiences there. Zhu Wen will also be in North America at the same time, so it was natural to pick his brilliant new feature Thomas Mao to give audiences Chinese independent fiction that’s playful and brilliant, avant garde and entertainingly comic. That’s a rare combination in Chinese indie filmmaking today, which tends to the more earnest end of the tonal spectrum.
dGF: You’ll be personally introducing two independent documentaries, 1428 and Disorder. What do these films in particular tell us about the independent documentary scene in China today?
SK: 1428 is a fine recent exponent of the on-the-spot documentary. Starting after 1989 and continuing to today, Chinese independent documentary makers, following Frederick Wiseman, Shinsuke Ogawa, and cinema verite principles, and in distinct opposition to the mainstream Chinese ideological official documentary form, shoot on DV, on-the-scene, and eschew voice over and music. Du Haibin is an exemplary practitioner of this mode of documentary realism. Disorder comes from a completely different point on the documentary practice spectrum, and is made by former avant-garde visual artist Huang Weikai. It’s city symphony-like collage of frantic urban chaos tells its own stories, implicitly, through speed and texture and unbridled energy.
dGF: Two fiction filmmakers, Liu Jiayin and Zhu Wen, will be on hand to present their work. What do appreciate the most about these two directors?
SK: I’ve suggested above that it’s their fluency with humour that I admire most, in an experimental film art context. Liu Jiayin is a rigorous narrative structuralist, but her family dramas are always wryly funny. And Zhu Wen remakes himself with each of his three films: Thomas Mao counterpoints Zhuangzi’s Daoist philosophical ontology with wacky cross-cultural gags. I can’t think of anything more appropriate to the spirit of Zhuangzi, actually.
dGF: The festival is also including a series of films by Feng Xiaogang, who in some ways couldn’t be further on the opposite end from the independent filmmakers along the spectrum of Chinese cinema. He’s commonly known as China’s most commercially successful filmmaker. Setting aside his films’ phenomenal box office success, what do you think is most interesting about them?
SK: That would take an essay on its own to explain (which I do plan to write, eventually…). There’s a strain of subversive linguistic rebellion in Feng Xiaogang, a smart, satirical, ironic acid-laced undercurrent, that’s there even in his most commercially glossy productions. This is the Wang Shuo side of director Feng (who did in fact star in Wang Shuo’s only movie, Baba, 1996), and it prevents his blockbusters from being simply written off as complacent status quo-comforting monsters.
dGF: Finally, University of Oregon will hold s a two week course on Chinese Independent Cinema that you will be co-teaching with Professor David Li and is related to the screening series. What are the most important things you want your students to take away from such a short, intensive program?
SK: If they could come away with some of their preconceptions about China and Chinese cinema challenged, if they get a sense of the range and complexity that Chinese current independent cinema contains, and if this lets them start asking different kinds of questions about China, film art, and Chinese movies, then I’ll feel that our work together was useful.