Posts Tagged ‘china’

PBS “POV” Lists Essential Documentaries About China

Monday, October 17th, 2011

Disorder (dir. Huang Weikai) tied for most mentions in PBS' poll of essential documentaries about China

Last month the acclaimed documentary Last Train Home, about migrant laborers in China, made its US television premiere as part of the POV series on PBS. As part of the film’s online promotional efforts, POV polled several filmmakers and experts in Chinese cinema to recommend top documentaries and features about China. We were pleased to see that Disorder tied for most mentions among all films, including a recommendation by Last Train Home director Fan Lixin. Fan writes of Disorder: “A powerful and utterly honest mishmash of the most bizarre images from contemporary Chinese society, with an almost cynical sarcasm. I’ve never seen anything quite like it!”

Other documentaries receiving multiple recommendations: Petition by Zhao Liang, whose Crime and Punishment is distributed by dGenerate, and Up the Yangtze by Yung Chang (who also took part in the poll). Strangely, Blind Shaft also tied for most mentions in this “documentary” poll, even though it is a narrative feature.

Not surprisingly, Jia Zhangke was the most recommended filmmaker, with six mentions spread across five titles. His documentary Dong is distributed by dGenerate.

All the recommendations can be found at the POV website on PBS.

CinemaTalk: Conversation with Edward Wong of the New York Times on Chinese Indie Filmmaking

Monday, August 29th, 2011

In the August 14 edition of the New York Times, Edward 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 government to produce Together, an “official” documentary on Chinese HIV victims. That decision and an earlier one involving involving Zhao’s withdrawal from an Australian film festival in support of a political protest by the Chinese government have drawn the criticism of a few occasional 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.

Listen to a podcast interview with Wong from the Sinica podcast on Popup Chinese.

We interviewed Wong about his experience reporting this story and its broader relevance on art and culture in contemporary China.

dGF: What attracted you to report on this story?

Edward Wong: While living in Beijing, I had watched and greatly admired two of Zhao Liang’s films, “Crime and Punishment” and “Petition.” In November 2010, I met him at a dinner in the 798 arts district with Karin Chien, the founder of dGenerate Films. At that time, he was working on “Together,” a documentary that the Health Ministry had commissioned as a public service announcement about people with HIV/AIDS. For the film, he had just recorded a song by Peng Liyuan, the celebrity wife of Xi Jinping, the man who is expected to become the next leader of China. Zhao also told me about how he had used social networking websites to track down interview subjects with HIV/AIDS. This new project sounded interesting. We talked a lot too about the making of “Crime and Punishment,” and about how he had lied to police officers to get access to their station house in northeast China.

I found Zhao to be an engaging person, and I thought that he might make an interesting profile. As I spent time with him, I found he had a lot of interesting things to say not only about making films, but also about the role of artists and intellectuals in China.

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LI Ning

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

BIOGRAPHY

Li Ning is a dancer, sculptor, performance artist, and filmmaker based out of Jinan, China. His first film is the documentary Tape.

SELECTED FILMOGRAPHY

Tape
2010, 168 min, documentary

- Official selection at the 41st International Film Festival Rotterdam, Netherlands, 2011
- Official selection at the 4th Reel China Film Festival at New York University, United States, 2008

CinemaTalk: Chris Berry on Cultural Revolution Cinema

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Interviewed by Michael Chenkin

Chris Berry

Chris Berry is Professor of film and television studies at Goldsmiths University of London, and co-editor of the recent volume The New Chinese Documentary Film Movement: For the Public Record. Most recently he co-curated a special film series “A Single Spark Can Start a Prairie Fire: The Cultural Revolution in the Cinemawith Katja Wiederspahn for the Film Archiv Austria, with the cooperation with the Museum für Völkerkunde (Ethnological Museum and the Film Archive Austria)in its special exhibition “The Culture of the Cultural Revolution.” We caught up with Professor Berry to learn more about the films and his experience in curating the series.

dGF: Has this exhibition changed your understanding of the Cultural Revolution and film? What were the major obstacles you faced in curating the exhibition at *Film Archiv Austria*?

Chris Berry: I guess my thinking about the Cultural Revolution was already changing along with a lot of other peoples’, and the process of putting together the series became part of that. I was very struck when I read the Tsinghua University professor and leading mainland public intellectual Professor Wang Hui’s comments in “Contemporary Chinese Thought and the Question of Modernity,” where he argued that the legitimacy of the entire contemporary Chinese political, social and cultural formation is built on the repudiation of the Cultural Revolution. Along with everyone else, I had taken that repudiation for granted for a long time and not gone much further. If today’s combination of neo-liberal economics and authoritarian politics needs a stereotype of the Cultural Revolution as a disastrous combination of the opposite — a command economy and anarchic politics — maybe that’s too simple. It’s not that I want to embrace the Cultural Revolution! But I think it made me realize that we need to decouple the Cultural Revolution from legitimization of the present to get a more complex understanding of it.

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What American Indies Can Learn from Their Chinese Counterparts

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

This article by dGenerate’s founder and president Karin Chien was originally published by IndieWire on the blog of independent film producer Ted Hope. This is a revised version of the article with some clarifications in language. Additionally, Karin and dGenerate’s VP of Programming Kevin Lee hand-picked six films as a starter kit for anyone interested in discovering the world of Chinese indie films. Full article and list of films can be found after the break.

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Karin Chien

Let me start by making a provocative statement – in my three years of distributing and working with Chinese independent filmmakers, I’ve experienced greater creative freedom than in ten years of producing independent film in the US.

For most of us, Chinese independent cinema is an unknown. A film like Zhang Yimou’s Hero, financed with Chinese state backing, about Chinese empire, and made by a party-line director, is sold here as arthouse fare, distributed byMiramax. Subtitles are enough to qualify a film as “independent cinema” in America.

So let’s begin with a redefinition. The films I work with are made outside the state studio system and without official government authorization. These are films that do not submit scripts or finished products to censorship committees. These are also films that cannot obtain official distribution or official funding in China. These films are often referred to in the West as unauthorized, underground filmmaking. The Chinese filmmakers call it independent cinema.

So how do you make films outside the system in China? (more…)

The Outrageous Reality of Chinese Cops: Crime and Punishment

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

By Steve Erickson

Originally published on Fandor, where Crime and Punishment is available on streaming video.

Zhao Liang has distinguished himself as one of the fiercest of the Chinese documentarians who’ve emerged in the past ten years. His 2007 debut Crime and Punishment offers a dose of Zhao’s filmmaking at full force. At first glance, the film, which closely follows the lives of Chinese military police monitoring a North Korean border town, might bring to mind American reality shows like Cops and its ersatz offspring. But its sensibility couldn’t be more different. Zhao’s film emphasizes punishment more than crime: his cops, remarkable for their lack of media savvy, repeatedly beat subjects in front of his cameras. Unlike American reality TV, these incidents aren’t served to the viewer as exploitation passing as entertainment, but something more ethically committed and unnerving.

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History in Progress, with Gaps: The National Museum of China, Part Two

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

By Shelly Kraicer

Visitors seem dazzled by the might of painterly propaganda in the "90th anniversary of the CCP" painting exhibit.

A major function of the National Museum of China is its definition and display of Chinese history under the Party. This section, somewhat romantically entitled “The Road of Rejuvenation” takes up a major part of NMC’s northern section. I walked through it all, from the Opium War to “China in Space.”

Inside the Grand Hall. If it looks like an elegant version of a terminal, it's because the German architects specialize in airports.

First, we enter a sculptural antichamber. This has got to be one of the weirdest immersive sculptural environments I’ve ever seen. An enormous entrance hall has been clotted with what looks like baked clay (I guess it’s depressingly expensive bronze that preserves the original rough slapdash clay “style” of the sculpture). On the left, scenes of feudal China (somewhat more beguiling than depressing, to my eye). On the right, scenes of modern China under the Leadership of the Party (really bleak and ugly, a lot of it is weirdly blank but one can make out a kindergarten model style mini-HK skyline, a high speed train rushing across the Tibetan plateau, and a fast cosmic ball of something, whirring with lumpy clay energy. In the middle, brutally (or, rather, I should say boldly) cleaving past and future in two is a sleek perforated sculpture, designed like a retro jet age style symbolic representation of what must be the progressive force of the Chinese Communist Party (think 1930s deco aggressively angled car hood ornament the size of a small jet). Suitably ideologically seasoned, I entered the Road of Rejuvenation galleries.

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Heavenly Culture, with Product Placement: A Tour of the National Museum of China, Part One

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

By Shelly Kraicer

The gallery of Ancient Chinese art in the National Museum of China may be the new highlight of anyone's visit to Beijing.

Beijing’s new National Museum of China opened in March 2011. It’s been steadily expanding inside since, opening more and more galleries to the public. Recently, the galleries of ancient art were finally opened, so I decided it was time to make a thorough visit (I’d been once before in early May just to take a look at the building) and see how the Chinese nation choses to present itself in a grand museum setting.

First of all, the setting. It is very grand. Super gigantic-grand. Reports in Western media describe an amusingly direct series of phone calls by planners of the National Museum of China (NMC) to western museum experts. Sample questions: “What is the floor space of the Louvre?” “What about the British Museum in London?” Clearly, the architects’ brief included making this the Largest Museum In The World (to match Beijing Capital Airport’s Terminal 3, the Largest Building In The World; the Great Wall, and so on). Apparently they succeeded, and out of the shell of two older museums on Tiananmen Square, the Museum of Chinese History and the Museum of the Chinese Revolution, the National Museum of China is being born, a giant monument to China’s fabled 5000 year history, and as we shall see, to the faithful guardianship of this immense history by the Chinese Communist Party. “Is being born” because the NMC is still a work in progress. Vast swathes of the building are still uninhabited, forthcoming galleries uninstalled. But I would estimate that at least half of the Museum is now open, more than enough for a full day of provocative and sometimes entrancing museum-going.

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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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A Visit to the IFChina Original Studio with Filmmaker Jian Yi

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

By Dan Edwards

IFChina Studio founder and filmmaker Jian Yi, outside the studio on the campus of Jinggangshan University

Reprinted by permission from RealTime Arts Magazine.

Ji’an doesn’t look like the most auspicious place for a groundbreaking experiment in China’s budding civil society. The town doesn’t appear in any English language guidebooks, the local station platform is just a low-slung slab of concrete and, in early spring when i visited, a bone chilling mist hung over the town. Yet this minor chinese city is home to IFChina Original Studio, a bold attempt to generate community participation in the arts and oral history in the heart of one of China’s poorest regions.

hidden stories

“We wanted to start with oral history because this place is so special – the Chinese revolution under Mao Zedong started here,” explains Jian Yi, a gently spoken local filmmaker whose credits include the documentary Super, Girls (2007). Jian Yi founded IFChina Original Studio with his wife Eva in 2009 on the campus of Jinggangshan University. Their activities include theatre classes, video workshops and photography programs, all built on an oral history foundation.

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