Remembering Lin Zhao: A Media Review

February 20th, 2014
Searching for Lin Zhao's Soul (dir. Hu Jie)

Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul (dir. Hu Jie)

Last December 16 marked the 81st anniversary of Lin Zhao’s birth (it’s technically the 82nd because although her birth certificate says 12/16/1932, her real birthday was 12/16/1931). Lin, a top student from Peking University, was imprisoned for defending students and leaders persecuted during Mao Zedong’s Anti-Rightist Movement in the late 1950s. A gifted writer, Lin composed endless articles and poems from her cell. Forbidden to use pens, she wrote using a hairpin dipped in her own blood. In 1968 she was executed, her tragic life lost to the margins of history.

Four decades after Lin’s execution, filmmaker Hu Jie filmed Searching For Lin Zhao’s Soul, a chronicle of Hu’s investigative journey to bring Lin’s story to light, uncovering the details of this forgotten woman’s fight for civil rights.

Hu Jie has collected multiple articles about the anniversary, many of which are published in particular relation to the recent news of former Red Guard Song Binbin’s apology for participating in the student movements that led to the death of her former teacher, Bian Zhongyun, at the start of the Cultural Revolution. This incident is documented in another documentary by Hu Jie, Though I Am Gone. Both Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul and Though I Am Gone are available as part of the dGenerate Films Collection.

The following articles provided by Hu are all in Chinese. The authors and titles are translated into English by Isabelle Tianzi Cai.

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Video Profile of “Trash-Talking” Filmmaker Wang Jiuliang

February 18th, 2014

From ChinaFile, a video profile of independent director Wang Jiuliang, whose award-winning documentary Beijing Besieged by Waste is part of the dGenerate Films Collection:

Documentary filmmaker and photographer Wang Jiuliang spent four years, between 2008 and 2011, documenting over 460 hazardous and mostly illegal landfill sites around Beijing.

His award-winning film Beijing Besieged by Waste (2011) provoked intense public discussion and is widely credited with having prodded the Beijing municipal government into allocating 10 billion RMB (U.S.$1.65 billion) to cleaning up the local waste industry. Wang then revisited the landfills he had documented. He estimates that at least 80% of them have been shuttered or upgraded. “With his photos and film, Wang Jiuliang has single-handedly accomplished what many NGOs in China had worked hard toward for decades—raising public awareness and bringing about policy change,” says environmental activist and filmmaker Shi Lihong.

Wang is now at work on a new film, Plastic China, which focuses on China’s recycling of imported plastics and is scheduled for release this summer. China is the world’s largest recycler and imports about 70% of the recyclable plastics and e-waste on the global market. Wang spoke to ChinaFile Culture Editor Sun Yunfan in December 2013 in Hong Kong.

Punto de Vista Film Festival Celebrates Films of Pema Tseden

February 17th, 2014
Pema Tseden (Wanma Caidan)

Pema Tseden (Wanma Caidan)

The 2014 edition of the Punto de Vista Film Festival of Navarra, Spain, is an international seminar focusing on works of documentary from around the world. This year’s seminar spotlights the career of Tibet-based filmmaker Pema Tseden (Wanma Caidan) and his three feature films, The Silent Holy Stones, The Search, and Old Dog. (The latter two films are part of the dGenerate Films collection.)

As part of the program, the Festival commissioned a booklet featuring an interview with Pema Tseden by film scholar and critic Zhang Ling and an original essay appreciation of his films by filmmaker and critic Dan Sallitt. The following excerpt of Sallitt’s essay is reprinted here with permission of the Festival and the author:

Pema Tseden’s misfortune is that he will likely be pigeonholed for the foreseeable future as the most important Tibetan filmmaker; whereas he required only a few films to establish himself as one of the best and most confident filmmakers anywhere in the world.

His first feature, The Silent Holy Stones (2005), presents all the elements of Tseden’s style in mature form: a weighty compositional sense that combines spectacular depiction of landscape and a precise deployment of his human subjects; the use of strongly conceptual material in which the central concept is overstated and reiterated, both for comedy and as a distancing effect; a humorous use of repeated actions and fixity of behavior; a figural approach to performance that renders the difference between actors and non-actors immaterial; and a pessimistic vision of the frailty of spiritual values in the face of worldly desire.

2009’s The Search follows The Silent Holy Stones in its focus on the role of fiction and storytelling in our lives, but the later film veers away from conventional narrative and adopts an abstract, cyclical structure that seems at once primitive and experimental.

After this feint toward the boundaries of narrative, Tseden’s most recent film, Old Dog (2011), unexpectedly applies his approach and concerns to an elemental drama that, through the dogged, minimalist cadences of Tseden’s story construction and the grandeur of his compositions, acquires the force of mythology.

The Punto de Vista Film Seminar will be held from February 19-22 in Pamplona. Details here.

New Chinese Documentaries Screen at MoMA Documentary Fortnight

February 17th, 2014

Mothers (dir. Xu Huijing)

Mothers (dir. Xu Huijing)

Documentary Fortnight, the Museum of Modern Art’s annual showcase of outstanding nonfiction works, this year includes two acclaimed features from China. ‘Til Madness Do Us Part is the newest magnum opus by acclaimed documentary filmmaker Wang Bing. Mothers is an award-winning look at the effects of China’s one-child policy on Chinese village life, produced by leading Chinese documentary production company Cnex. All screenings at the Museum of Modern Art. Details and screening dates listed below. Click on film titles for more information.

‘Til Madness Do Us Part
2013. Hong Kong/France/Japan. Directed by Wang Bing. In a bleak asylum in southwest China, 50 inmates who have committed crimes, are mentally ill, or simply don’t fit into society spend their lives locked on a single floor, negotiating sparse quarters, extreme isolation, and minimal food as best they can, in a world beyond societal norms. 228 min.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014, 6:30 p.m.

2013. China. Directed by Xu Huijing. The complex personal consequences of China’s one-child policy are unveiled through the experiences of women and families in one rural town. Local leaders coldly enforce national policies, without regard to individual circumstances, by methodically carrying out the long-standing government decree. 68 min.

screening with:

The Private Life of Fenfen

2013. USA. Directed by Leslie Tai. Born in a small Chinese village in 1983, Fenfen has kept a video diary since 2007. The film follows three years of her life through her video diary and viewers’ reactions to scenes from it as they are screened in a restaurant, a hair salon, and other public places. 29 min.

Monday, February 24, 2014, 8:00 p.m.

Thursday, February 27, 2014, 7:00 p.m.

The Animation of the Real: Liu Jian Northeast US Tour

February 11th, 2014
Piercing I (dir. Liu Jian)

Piercing I (dir. Liu Jian)

A series of events to showcase the work of seminal Chinese independent animation filmmaker Liu Jian is taking place during February 2014, with visits to Harvard University, Colgate University, College of Staten Island, and Spectacle Theater.

Animation is often conceived of as a surrealist and fantastical mode of filmmaking. In Piercing I (Citong wo, 2010), Liu Jian presents us with an alternative style. Liu’s film is a raw, social realism through animation that confronts the accelerating speed of Chinese society, and represents the lives of migrating souls as they navigate China’s radical social and economic transformations. Piercing I is a strikingly real and contemporary take on the urban landscapes of this fast-developing nation. The film looks into the struggles of rural migrants as they inhabit new urban realms, and touches upon issues of mobility, corruption and social inequalities. The current social and political stances of the establishment in China cannot tolerate a film with these topics, and indeed Piercing I was not granted official approval for commercial release.
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“Striking and Powerful:” Beijing Besieged by Waste Reviewed

February 6th, 2014
Beijing Besieged by Waste (dir. WANG Jiuliang)

Beijing Besieged by Waste (dir. WANG Jiuliang)

In the new issue of the journal Environment, Space, Place, Lorna Lueker Zukas of National University reviews Wang Jiuliang’s Beijing Besieged by Waste, a “striking and powerful film reveals that garbage caused by unfettered production for local and global marketplaces is creating enormous problems for China:”

Wang’s documentary uses familiar subjects, trash, reclamation, and recycling, to illustrate the problem of too much; too much garbage, too much growth, and too much consumption. Beijing is showcased as the “poster-city” for the global problem of waste, a problem recognized by the World Bank as potentially undermining future growth and development. Globally, waste volumes are rapidly increasing, outstripping the rate of urbanization; this growth is occurring fastest not only in China, but also in other parts of East Asia, parts of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Wang’s images force viewers’ attention to the physical environment, the realities of endless material production, and the reduction of people to disposable status. He asks viewers to think about the connection between production and destruction. Waste in China and elsewhere is primarily a by-product of consumer-based lifestyles that drive much of the world’s capitalist economies; it is the most obvious and noxious by-product of a capital-intensive, resource-extracting, labor-abusing, consumer-based economic lifestyle. Wang’s images remind us that trash is not just trash; it morphs into greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and air pollution that make people ill. Unenforced regulations in the trash industry also provide spaces and places for the exploitation and degradation of workers. Beijing Besieged by Waste helps viewers to appreciate, however momentarily, the global context of waste and its connections to economies and local and global pollution.

Beijing Besieged by Waste is part of the dGenerate Films collection.

Interview with Zhao Dayong on His New Film Premiering in Berlinale

February 5th, 2014
Shadow Days (dir. Zhao Dayong)

Shadow Days (dir. Zhao Dayong)

Zhao Dayong, director of acclaimed documentaries Ghost Town and Street Life, is interviewed by the South China Morning Post in advance of the world premiere of his film Shadow Days at the Berlin Film Festival:

You started out as a documentary filmmaker. Why have you moved to fiction?

In reality, there is not much of a difference between documentary filmmaking and fiction, because I use the images to express things I want to say and stories I want to tell. It is not easy to express thoughts in a comfortable way through a documentary – you have to remain truthful to the complexities of these people’s real lives. Fiction is more free from these constraints, and much more effective.

You’ve portrayed solitude, hopelessness and the strength of human resilience in your previous work. What topics are you dealing with inShadow Days?

The main topic of all my documentaries and films has never changed: lives becoming shallower through economic development, the faith in and culture of cash, the destruction of a natural form of living, and helplessness and ignorance. Shadow Days is the story of a boy returning to a place where he thought he could live safely and raise a child, but then it all goes wrong. [His character’s fate] is something that is inevitable because of ignorance

Read the rest of the interview at the South China Morning Post.

Zhao Dayong’s films Ghost Town and Street Life are part of the dGenerate Films collection.

New Profile on Independent Filmmaker Hu Jie

January 30th, 2014
Hu Jie stands beside his painting of Chinese dissident Lin Zhao. (photo: Matthew Bell)

Hu Jie stands beside his painting of Chinese dissident Lin Zhao. (photo: Matthew Bell)

For the radio program The World produced by Public Radio International, reporter Matthew Bell profiles Hu Jie, a Chinese independent filmmaker who “points his camera at the darkest moments in Communist Party history.”

Bell casts Hu’s work amidst the recent news of an ex-Communist Party Red Guard apologizing for the killing of her teacher during the Cultural Revolution, an incident examined in Hu’s documentary Though I Am Gone. Bell interviews Hu about the reasons for his explorations into the hidden stories of China’s recent history:

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China Tightens Regulations on Online Films

January 29th, 2014
Microfilm director Wei Jiangang

Microfilm director Wei Jiangang

From the Hollywood Reporter:

Chinese authorities tightened their grip on the country’s nascent Internet video space this week, announcing new regulations that require producers of so-called digital “microfilms” to submit their real names when uploading content to local Internet video sites.

The government has been struggling to get a handle on as the burgeoning but difficult to regulate new media category of microfilms and web series, which are often quickly produced and consumed via smart phones. This week’s announcement follows a guideline issued by the SGAPPRFT in 2012 requiring Internet video providers to take responsibility for editing all microfilms before posting them. While most microfilms are meant to be consumed as light entertainment, some have touched upon politically sensitive issues and risqué topics. This week’s move further serves the government’s interest of controlling the online conversation in China.

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Updates on Chinese Film Festival Studies: Festival Reports and Conference

January 28th, 2014

Our friends at the Chinese Film Festival Studies Research Network website  announce that April 1, 2014, the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese Film Festival Studies Network will host a one-day conference on Chinese film festivals. This is open to non-network members, and we invite proposals for papers to be presented. Details can be found on the News section of the website.

Additionally the website has two new festival reports from members of the Chinese Film Festival Studies network:

Dina Iordanova (St Andrews) reviews the Festival du Cinema Chinois in Paris, which took place in November 2013.

Ma Ran (Nagoya) reports from the 4th Chinese Independent Film Festival in Tokyo, which took place in December 2013. Excerpt:

The festival itself is motivated by the desire to establish Sino-Japan connections at a grassroots level, where communication is greatly valued and prioritized. Hence throughout the years, CIFFT has alternated routine Q&A sessions with Chinese independent cinema-themed discussion roundtables or events of similar nature in its programme (sometimes collaborating with universities), where Japanese film professionals (independent filmmakers, translators, scholars and festival programmers) and Chinese filmmakers can honestly dialogue and exchange ideas with each other.

Visit the Chinese Film Festival Studies Research Network.