New Book on Independent Chinese Documentary

June 17th, 2015

9780748695621.coverWe’re excited to welcome the publication of a new book, Independent Chinese Documentary: Alternative Visions, Alternative Publics, written by Dan Edwards and published by Edinburgh University Press. Dan has contributed several outstanding articles to dGenerate in the past, and his book is a welcome addition to the burgeoning field of contemporary Chinese cinema and documentary studies.

Details on the book are as follows:

Independent Chinese Documentary: Alternative Visions, Alternative Publics analyses how independent documentaries are forging a new public sphere in today’s China

Since the turn of the twenty-first century there has been an explosion in Chinese independent documentary filmmaking. But how are we to understand this vibrant burst of activity? Are these films brave expressions of dissidence, or do they point to a more complex attempt to expand the terms of public discourse in the People’s Republic?

This timely study is based on detailed interviews with Chinese documentary makers rarely available in English, and insights gained by the author while working as a journalist in Beijing. It considers the relationship between independent documentaries and China’s official film and television sectors, exploring the ways in which independent films probe, question and challenge the dominant ideas and narratives circulating in the state-sanctioned public sphere. Detailed analyses of key contemporary documentaries reveal a sustained attempt to forge an alternative public sphere where the views and experiences of petitioners, AIDS sufferers, dispossessed farmers and the victims of Mao’s repression can be publicly aired for a small, but steadily growing, public.

Key Features:

  • A detailed account of one of the world’s most active, vibrant and challenging contemporary documentary sectors
  • Draws extensively on first-hand interviews with filmmakers
  • Offers in-depth, critical analyses of China’s most challenging contemporary independent documentaries
  • Discusses China’s state-sanctioned film and television sectors to cast new light on how the official public sphere is shaped and guided by the state

Furman University Hosts Chinese Environmental Film Festival This Week

February 23rd, 2015

chinesefilm3The Chinese Environmental Film Festival and Workshop is a collaboration between filmmakers, scholars and experts who are interested in examining the environmental issues facing China. Organized by faculty and staff members at Furman University, the event is being held for the first time.

The festival, which will be held Feb. 26-28, will feature eight films, including the premiere of a documentary produced by two filmmakers from China’s Yunnan Province. The final day of the festival will include a workshop where speakers and experts will have the opportunity to provide critical commentary related to the films.

Supported by a Luce Initiative on Asian Studies and the Environment grant, the event is part of Furman’s ongoing effort to encourage innovative interdisciplinary teaching, research and programming on Asia’s environment.

Full schedule follows:

Read the rest of this entry »

New Website Profiles History of Chinese Documentary at Sundance

February 16th, 2015
The Chinese Mayor

The Chinese Mayor

This year’s Sundance Film Festival yielded a triumphant moment for Chinese documentary film, when The Chinese Mayor, the latest effort by acclaimed director Zhou Hao and producer Qi Zhao, winning a special jury award. However, of the many independent documentaries that have come from China over the past three decades, this is only the sixth to be featured at Sundance, according to a recent article by Genevieve Carmel. This prompts Carmel to ask “Why don’t Chinese docs go to Sundance?” a question she probes at length in her article, drawing on numerous resources to present her findings.

The article is part of the website Crows & Sparrows, a new initiative “that seeks to create and enhance opportunities for independent media exchange between North American and East/Southeast Asia through regular curation and visiting filmmaker programs.” The current focus of Crows & Sparrows is on connecting film circles in Boston and Beijing. The initiative is founded by three of the most ardent supporters of contemporary Chinese independent cinema: Genevieve Carmel, Benny Shaffer and Zhou Xin. Crows & Sparrows will put its initial efforts to developing screening programs with visiting filmmakers in Boston and sharing news of other related events and international filmmaker opportunities.

Zhou Hao Wins Golden Horse Award; Next Film Chosen for Sundance Competition

December 9th, 2014
Cotton (dir. Zhou Hao)

Cotton (dir. Zhou Hao)

For over a decade, Zhou Hao has been making independent documentaries probing many of China’s most urgent social issues, including migrant labor, drug abuse, law enforcement and political corruption. The former journalist’s fearless and resourceful investigations have won him acclaim at various festivals; dGenerate distributes two of his most well-regarded titles, Using and The Transition Period. His most recent work is achieving even greater levels of recognition.

Last month, the Taiwan Golden Horse Film Festival awarded its Best Documentary prize to Zhou’s newest film, Cotton. In this feature, Zhou profiles a farmer, a cotton picker and workers in cotton factories, who represent the unseen labor behind China’s cotton industry.

Last week, the Sundance Institute announced that Zhou’s upcoming film The Chinese Mayor will have its world premiere in the Sundance International Film Festival’s World Documentary Competition. In this feature, Zhou closely follows Mayor Geng Yanbo, who is determined to transform the coal-mining center of Datong, in China’s Shanxi province, into a tourism haven showcasing clean energy. In order to achieve that, however, he has to relocate 500,000 residences to make way for the restoration of the ancient city.

Heartiest congratulations to Zhou Hao on his recent and continued success.

Environmental Filmmaking in China Profiles Wang Jiuliang, Jian Yi

December 8th, 2014

For the Associated Press, Louise Watt reports on the impact that environmental filmmakers are having in China. Among those profiled in the report are Wang Jiuliang and Jian Yi, whose previous environmental films are distributed by dGenerate: Beijing Besieged by Waste by Wang and What’s for Dinner? by Jian.

Wang Jiuliang discusses his new film "Plastic China." (photo credit: Associated Press)

Wang Jiuliang discusses his new film “Plastic China.” (photo credit: Associated Press)

An excerpt from the report:

One clip shows a girl swatting flies from a younger child among piles of trash. Another has children blowing up used medical gloves like balloons.

The footage is on the computer screen of Wang Jiuliang as he edits his second film about waste harming China’s environment.

He’s already in discussions to show it on the main state-run broadcaster and answering calls from state media reporters who want to interview him. This in a country where independent filmmakers critical of the government generally face censorship, harassment or worse.

Environmental filmmakers continue to be hassled at the local level — Wang said he has been chased by dogs, threatened and punched — but their work apparently is being tolerated nationally because it aligns with the Communist Party leadership’s new priority of fighting pollution.

Read the full article at AP.

Chinese Independent Film Lives On – A Photo Essay by Karin Chien

December 2nd, 2014

Earlier this month, dGenerate Films’ Founder and President Karin Chien attended the 11th China Independent Film Festival (CIFF) in Nanjing. Many did not think the festival could happen.

In 2012, CIFF was shut down by the authorities. In 2013, the organizers carefully screened only 10 feature films and one documentary. Then, earlier this year, the Beijing Independent Film Festival (BIFF), known to show more politically sensitive films than CIFF, was violently repressed, the organizers detained, and their archive of over 1500 independent films confiscated.

Yet, from November 15-20, CIFF’s organizers managed to pull off the only festival of independent Chinese films in mainland China this year.

Below, Karin chronicles her visit to CIFF, as well as to the BIFF offices and to the opening ceremony of a new festival, the 2nd China Women’s Film Festival.


Documentary director Xu Tong (FORTUNE TELLER) answers questions about his latest film CUT OUT THE EYES, which tells the story of a blind traveling musician in Inner Mongolia. A classroom at Nanjing University of the Arts served as one of four screening venues for the 2014 China Independent Film Festival (CIFF). Because the festival was not widely publicized, in order not to draw attention from the authorities, the majority of the audience were students who saw the posters and programs around campus. Read the rest of this entry »

Filmmaker Wu Wenguang visits UC Santa Cruz

October 27th, 2014

Next week the University of California, Santa Cruz will host two events centered around the visit to University of California, Santa Cruz of Wu Wenguang, one of China’s leading independent documentary makers, and three artists (Zhang


Mengqi, Li Xinmin, Zou Xueping) from the Caochangdi Workshop in Beijing.

The two events are:

1) Tuesday, Nov. 4, 7 pm, Public screening of Children’s Village (2012) by Zou Xueping, part of Caochangdi’s Folk Memory Project on China’s Great Famine (1959-1961), followed by discussion with Wu Wenguang and the Caochangdi artists. Location: Communications 150, Studio C, University of California, Santa Cruz.

2) Wednesday, Nov. 5, 10 am – 1pm, CDAR (Center for Documentary Arts and Research) post-realist seminar which offers a great opportunity for in-depth and close-range discussion with the Caochangdi group on issues of documentary field work, remembering, and collective choreography.

Registration required. Contact Jonathan Kahana (jkahana at or Alex Johnston (alwjohns at

Location: Communications 150, Studio D, University of California, Santa Cruz.

Beijing Independent Film Festival: Video and Summary of Reports

September 5th, 2014

The Chinese Film Festival Studies Research Network has posted a helpful collection of links to news reports, statements and other information related to the closing of the Beijing Independent Film Festival last August. Also included are statements from festival organizer Li Xianting listing a timeline of his interactions with authorities prior to the shutdown and an official response (in Chinese) from the Festival to the authorities.  The site also links to a Chinese-language editorial by independent film producer and programmer Zhang Xianmin on the current difficulties facing independent film festivals in China, originally published in the Chinese edition of the New York Times.

Scott E. Myers, PhD Candidate of the University of Chicago, also contributed his first-person account of what happened on the day of the shutdown. Below is video footage of locals confronting festival attendees that day, posted on the YouTube account of filmmaker and festival organizer Wang Wo.

Report on How Documentaries are Controlled in China

August 29th, 2014
Li Xianting, film critic and organizer of the Beijing Independent Film Festival (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Li Xianting, film critic and organizer of the Beijing Independent Film Festival (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Following the recent shutdown of the Beijing Independent Film Festival, Louise Watt reports in the Associated Press on the larger state mechanisms that control documentary production and distribution in China:

China is wooing filmmakers at the same time as it’s cracking down on them. Authorities are handing more slots to documentaries, giving even independent filmmakers a chance to be shown on state television. But while China is avidly pursuing what it considers serious content to replace popular dating, reality and game shows, it is also stifling material with any whiff of challenging the Communist Party line. A weekend crackdown by authorities on an independent film festival in Beijing was the worst in its eight-year history, with police confiscating hundreds of films and briefly detaining two organizers.

On the one hand, there is a push to use documentary to promote an ideal image of China across the world while countering less substantive television programming domestically:

The government approves of such documentaries that “accord with the view of China as being a magical place full of interesting customs, traditions and good food,” said Michael Keane, an expert on China’s creative industries at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.

Li Xiaofeng, a documentaries expert at Nanjing University’s School of Journalism and Communication, said the government was encouraging documentaries to help boost China’s reputation abroad and to counter the trend of “too many” variety and other entertainment shows on local TV stations.

On the other hand, the highly regulated and restrictive environment for such films lead young filmmakers to independent venues to seek opportunities for freer expression:

Kevin B. Lee, the vice president of programming for dGenerate Films, which distributes Chinese independent films to North America, said the Beijing Independent Film Festival, which was due to open this year on Saturday, was a “vital channel” for discovering young filmmakers.

Lee said production of independent films on the mainland has “just flourished” over the past 10 years because equipment has become cheaper and more convenient. But he added that in the past two years, disruptions of film festivals have made it harder to know what’s out there.

“I worry about the upcoming as-yet-unknown talents for whom really the festival is often the first exposure they have to an outside audience,” Lee said.

Read the full report at Associated Press.

Chinese Cinema Author Expresses Changing Opinion of Indie Films

August 28th, 2014
China on Film: A Century of Exploration, Confrontation and Controversy, by Paul Pickowicz

China on Film: A Century of Exploration, Confrontation and Controversy, by Paul Pickowicz

Recently China Digital Times interviewed Paul Pickowicz, Distinguished Professor of History and Chinese Studies at the University of California San Diego and author of China on Film: A Century of Exploration, Confrontation and Controversy (Rowan and Littlefield 2013). In a long and far-ranging conversation, Pickowicz reflects on his groundbreaking work at the China Film Archive in the 1980s, forging relationships with Chinese film scholars and filmmakers at a time when the Chinese film industry saw little interaction with the West.  He also shares his observations on different eras of Chinese film from the 1920s to the present.Of particular relevance to us at dGenerate is his answer to a question regarding his shifting opinion of the independent films of the past two decades:

CDT: Why did you initially deem the wave of underground and independent productions that came out shortly before and after 2000  “self-indulgent” and “trivial” but later change your mind saying “Chinese artists had earned the right to be self-indulgent” because of decades of “Maoist collectivism and asceticism.” 

PGP: When I first began to take a close look at large numbers of these films, documentaries and features alike, I was no doubt hoping for the same sort of independent, critical engagement with broad social issues that we see in the films made before 1949 by independent, non-state sector filmmakers.  I was looking for political critiques and at least some finger pointing.  I was interested in such issues as environmental degradation, recovering lost histories, child trafficking, corruption, and organized crime.  Eventually I found many significant works that treated such topics, films like Peng Tao’s Red Snow (Hongse xue, 2006), Liu Bingjian’s Crying Woman (Kuqi de nuren, 2002), and Ai Xiaoming’s Love and Care (Guan ai zhi jia, 2007).  But initially I looked randomly through our collection and struck by the large numbers of films that seemed very inwardly directed instead of outwardly directed.  I was looking for critical protest films but was confronted by very large numbers of films, especially documentaries, that screamed, “Look at me!”  They seemed very self-indulgent to me and I quickly tired of their repetitiveness.  But of course I soon realized that these films were highly political in their own ways.  They were, after all, a very logical response to decades of Maoist collectivism when people were supposed to “merge with the masses” and deny “self.”  Once a space suddenly opened up for reflections on self and individual identities, many, many young urbanites took the plunge.  They engaged with passion in what I call “identity searches.”

The full interview can be read at China Digital Times.