Posts Tagged ‘ai weiwei’

CinemaTalk: Interview with Zhu Rikun, Curator of Jacob Burns “Hidden China” Series, on Ai Weiwei and Chinese Indie Filmmaking

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

This October the Jacob Burns Film Center presents “Hidden China,” a monthlong series of independent documentaries produced in China, selected Zhu Rikun, producer, programmer and founder of Fanhall Studio. Zhu Rikun is a major figure in contemporary Chinese independent film, having produced such acclaimed films as Karamay and Winter Vacation. Earlier in 2012 he served as an advisor on “Hidden Histories,” a series of Chinese independent documentaries co-curated by Gertjan Zuilhof and Gerwin Tamsma for the International Film Festival Rotterdam. The centerpiece of the series was a retrospective of the documentaries of Ai Weiwei. Many of those selections are included in the “Hidden China” series at the Jacob Burns Film Center.

dGenerate Films’ Kevin B. Lee recorded this interview with Zhu Rikun during the Rotterdam series, focusing on the significance of Ai Weiwei as a documentary filmmaker and how they reflect developments in documentary filmmaking, citizen journalism and freedom of information and expression in today’s China.

Interview transcribed by Stephanie Hsu.

Kevin Lee: Looking at Ai Weiwei and his films, it seems he’s made films in two different Chinas. We look at a movie like Fairytale or Ordos 100—these are documentaries about how the Chinese art world is one of unlimited money and prestige. It’s a world the ruling powers approve of, because they think it will help elevate China in the eyes of the world. And so they work with Ai Weiwei as a famous artist to help promote that view. At the same time, he makes these highly socially critical films, like Disturbing the Peace and One Recluse. How do you see the connection between these two different kinds of movies that he makes? Do you think they are all basically the same kind of film or are they very different?

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Ai Weiwei on Beijing, a “Nightmare” of a City

Friday, September 9th, 2011

By Isabella Tianzi Cai

The Olympic Stadium in Beijing, designed by Ai Weiwei in the city he now calls "a nightmare"


In his essay posted on The Daily Beast on August 28, 2010, artist Ai Weiwei rants about Beijing being a nightmarish city for anyone to live in. He says that the rapid economic progress of China has ironically made its capital unrecognizable and its people identity-less, and the country’s political rigidity has only worsened these problems.

In a depressing overview of the people living in Beijing, Ai sorts them into one of the two categories. One, he says, are the money-grabbers and power-worshippers who are distressingly predictable. “You don’t want to look at a person walking past because you know exactly what’s on his mind.” Frustrated, he goes on. “No curiosity. And no one will even argue with you.” The other category, which refers to the mass middle to low wage earners in the city, sounds just as pitiful. “I see people on public buses, and I see their eyes, and I see they hold no hope,” Ai observes.
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The New Yorker’s Richard Brody on Zhao Liang, Jia Zhangke, Ai Weiwei

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

by Kevin B. Lee

Zhao Liang confronted by Ai Weiwei on camera

In his blog on the New Yorker website, critic Richard Brody responds to last weeks’ New York Times cover feature on Zhao Liang, director of Crime and Punishment (distributed by dGenerate) and Petition (which Brody deems “the fiercest and most confrontational film regarding the Chinese government’s suppression of dissent that I’ve seen”). Brody summarizes the article’s charting of the tensions that arose between Zhao Liang and activist/artist Ai Weiwei following Zhao’s following Jia Zhangke’s lead to withdraw their films from the 2009 Melbourne Film Festival in light of political tensions between the festival and Chinese authorities.

Brody focuses on a video of Ai’s on-camera challenge to Zhao for giving in to the government’s demands. Ai also insinuates that Jia withdrew from the festival so as to ensure good standing with the Chinese government in order to produce a government-approved film made for the Shanghai Expo, I Wish I Knew. Brody counters criticism that the film is a feature length promotional video for Shanghai compromised by the constraints of government approval:

If so, the government didn’t get its money’s worth: the film (which I reviewed when it was shown here earlier this year) is an audacious recuperation of ways of life and thought from pre-Communist China, an embrace of Taiwan and Hong Kong, a poignant lament for victims of the Cultural Revolution, and a depiction of the Expo as an alienating, inhuman monstrosity. (He did something similar when making his first officially approved film, “The World,” at Beijing’s World Park.) Jia’s symbolic art, like that of Howard Hawks and Ernst Lubitsch under the Hays Code, is ingeniously conceived to say exactly what’s on his mind regardless of external constraints.

He also tries to broker a conciliatory stance between Ai’s righteous indignation and Zhao’s pragmatic compromise:

Ai’s fury is entirely justified – he has endured, and continues to endure, horrific ordeals in order to live freely under a tyrannical regime, and he is entitled to view those who make common cause with it, of any sort, as being on the wrong side of morality. But only he and others who have endured similar persecution are entitled to say so. Heroism can’t be undertaken prescriptively, and those of us who write and make art without fear of arrest should pause before accusing Zhao of collaboration or cowardice.

Read Brody’s full article.

Jia Zhangke’s Dong and Zhao Liang’s Crime and Punishment are available on Amazon

Zhao Liang profiled in New York Times

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

In a lengthy New York Times feature, Ed Wong profiles Zhao Liang, director of two of the most fearlessly independent social documentaries to come from China, Crime and Punishment and Petition. Zhao has recently transitioned to work with the Chinese State Film Bureau to produce Together, an “official” documentary on Chinese HIV victims. As a result, he has drawn the criticism of former supporters and collaborators, including outspoken artist-activist Ai Weiwei, whose detention by the Chinese government this year drew international attention. The article summarizes its central concern in one paragraph:

Mr. Zhao’s evolution from a filmmaker hounded by the government to one whom it celebrates offers a window into hard choices that face directors as they try to carve out space for self-expression in China’s authoritarian system. Like Mr. Zhao, many seek to balance their independent visions with their desires to live securely and win recognition.

Accompanying the article are two videos: one in which Zhao shares his thoughts on filmmaking in China, and another in which Ai Weiwei confronts Zhao on camera over the withdrawal of his film Petition from the 2009 Melbourne International Film Festival in order to avoid political controversy.

dGenerate Films is the distributor of Zhao’s film Crime and Punishment. It can be purchased through dGenerate or Amazon, or viewed online at Amazon or Fandor.

Cinematalk: Interview with Ying Qian of Harvard

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

By Michael Chenkin

Ying Qian

Ying Qian is a PhD candidate in East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University. Qian’s area of focus involves examining the evolving documentary visions in 20th century China. She is interested in the social processes and “film thinking” that have enabled and shaped the making of documentary images, and the ways in which these images have provided framings, interventions and agencies to historical change.

Recently, Qian co-organized a conference titled “Just Images: Ethics and Chinese Documentary” at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard. We spoke with Qian about the highlights of the conference as well as her ongoing research in Chinese documentary.

dGF: Could you give a brief overview of your research? What are your specific interests within the field of documentary film study?

Ying Qian: I’m writing a dissertation on the history of Chinese documentary since the Mao era. I also write about documentary practices in the Republican period in my introduction chapter. My interest in documentary cinema was initiated by encounters with contemporary independent documentary, and I used to make my own documentary films as well.

In my dissertation, I try to move the timeline further back. When talking about contemporary documentary, critics would point out that these films are very different from the official practices and especially from the documentary practices of an earlier era. New documentaries do not usually have a “Voice-of-God” commentary; they also have different approaches to conceptualize reality and deal with contingency in filmmaking. These observations are clearly true; though I think the division between the past and the present is not so binary. When one examines the documentary productions in the Mao-era seriously, one finds some important continuities despite many ruptures. I see documentary of the present as multiple responses to the end of the Mao-era.

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Ai Weiwei’s Documentaries Available on YouTube

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

By Isabella Tianzi Cai

World-renowned artist Ai Weiwei is responsible for bold, iconic works such as the Beijing Olympic Stadium, but he has proven to be just as daring as a political activist. Ai has leveraged his celebrity status to speak openly about human rights abuses in China as few public figures have dared. As Evan Osnos writes in a 2010 profile on Ai in The New Yorker, “His cultural and political footprint is unique in a country where people generally face a choice between thriving within the confines of the system or shouting from the shadows outside it. For the moment, he is attempting to do both, and nobody is at all sure where that leads.” His efforts have not gone unpunished; earlier this month, his million-dollar studio in Shanghai was demolished by the government, who deemed the building illegal (this despite that the government had approved the building in 2008).

As part of his activism, Ai has become a prolific filmmaker documenting ugly cases of human rights violations in China. Below are 19 videos produced by Ai Weiwei Studio that have been posted to YouTube, many of which, as well as others, can be found on Ai Weiwei’s YouTube Channel. The shortest is four-and-a-half-minute long; the longest lasts three hours and 40 minutes. At the moment, most of them are without English subtitles. As YouTube is blocked in China, these videos can be accessed in China through the links listed on this site.

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Olympic Artist Ai Weiwei the Latest in China’s Long List of Evictees

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Artist Ai Weiwei (source: Archinect)

By Isabella Tianzi Cai

Chinese architect and artist Ai Weiwei, designer of the famous “Bird’s Nest” Olympic Stadium in Beijing, and whose current “Sunflower Seeds” exhibition is receiving critical acclaim in the Tate Modern Gallery in London, now faces the demolition of his Shanghai art studio demolished later this month. According to the Chinese government, Ai’s studio was erected illegally and had to be removed by law. But according to the artist, the building project was initiated by a high government official who came to him in 2008, soliciting his help in developing a new cultural district in Shanghai. The current accusation against Ai states that he does not have the proper paperwork for the building project, but two years ago before the project started, Ai was told that the paper works were all in place. The contradiction in the government’s statements arouses Ai’s suspicion that the demolition is a retaliatory act against his political activism in China’s human rights movement, which remains a hot-button issue with the Chinese government.

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Video from The New Yorker: Ai Weiwei’s Life as Art

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

New Yorker Magazine’s China correspondent Evan Osnos has a feature article in the newest issue on Ai Weiwei, exploring the phenomenon and implications of Ai’s evolving role as artist, activist and iconoclast. On his blog, Osnos offers the following abstract:

[Ai's] cultural and political footprint is unique in a country where people generally face a choice between thriving within the confines of the system or shouting from the shadows outside it. For the moment, he is attempting to do both, and nobody is at all sure where that leads.

Osnos goes on to introduce a video clip related to his article, which is viewable below.

Alison Klayman, a Beijing-based filmmaker, has been following Ai for months, both at Ai’s studio in Beijing and on his constant travels. (Her documentary about Ai’s life and work is scheduled for release next year.) As depicted in this video, and explored in the magazine, Ai visited a police station in April in order to file an official complaint about being beaten by local police last year. The police officers he encounters become the unwitting participants in a work of art that is Ai’s life itself.

Sixty Years of Unsanctioned Memories in the People’s Republic

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

At the 60th anniversary of the founding of the P.R.C., Fanhall.com published a list of fifteen key independent documentaries as their tribute to the celebration. Entitled “Sixty Years of Unsanctioned Memories in the People’s Republic,” these digital video films present vivid pictures of Chinese life, society and landscape rarely seen in government-approved news or the overwhelming reports about China in mainstream western media. They present and reflect on modern Chinese history from the perspective of common citizens and marginalized social groups. German-Jewish political philosopher Hannah Arendt distinguishes private and public realms as “the distinction between things that should be hidden and things that should be shown.” These independent works try to break the line and present the hidden, “private” scenes and stories to the public. The list also links to the synopses of the films, some with English translations.

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Two Approaches to the New-Generation Patriotic Cinema

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Among the festivities for the 60th Anniversary of the People’s Republic, the most talked-about and sought-after film is undoubtedly The Founding of a Republic (Jianguo Daye), which is also the centerpiece of the fifty movies announced by the government-sponsored China Film Group to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Chinese Revolution. Co-directed by Han Sanping, head of the China Film Group, and the Sixth Generation-turned-mainstream director Huang Jianxin, the film traces, or recreates, the history of how sixty years ago Chairman Mao’s revolutionary soldiers overcame Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party Kuomintang in the civil war to establish the world’s most enduring Communist revolution.

This so-called “leitmotif commercial blockbuster” breaks the pattern of regular political films with its star-studded cast, featuring nearly 200 of China’s well-beloved film professionals, including action heroes Jackie Chan and Jet Li, international star Zhang Ziyi, comedy king Stephen Chow, and even directors Chen Kaige, Jiang Wen, and Feng Xiaogang. In an interview with South Capital Entertainment Weekly, director Han Sanping proudly calls this film an “ingenious cooperation of politics and commerce.” A report on Chinafilm.com reads “The elder generation watches history; the younger generation counts stars.”

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