Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

Artist Yang Weidong’s New Project Asks What Chinese Really Need

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

By Isabella Tianzi Cai

Yang Weidong interviews a subject for his documentary project "Signal" (Photo: Yang Weidong)

A work in progress by Beijing artist Yang Weidong was recently shown in Hong Kong. Named “Xu Yao” or “Need” in Chinese and “Signal” in English, the documentary comprises of roughly 20 minutes of edited video interviews that Yang conducted with 237 notable Chinese subjects over the past three years. Yang asked each person the same question: “What do Chinese people need most today?” Among the interviewees were director Jia Zhangke and contemporary oil painter Liu Xiaodong, who appears as himself in Jia’s documentary Dong.

The premiere of Yang’s unfinished film project coincided with the publication of the first book in a series, also by him, named Li Ci Cun Zhao: 500 Wei Zhong Guo Ren De Xin Ling Ji Lu (Di Yi Juan) [For the Record: 500 Chinese People’s Inner Thoughts (Volume I)]. On July 22, 2011, he was invited to hold a press release for the book at the Hong Kong Book Fair, which was also the venue for the first public screening of “Need.” This event has been recorded in full by the Social Record Association (aka SocREC) of Hong Kong.

The concept for Yang’s project can be traced in the Chinese documentary tradition. Back in 2000, independent filmmaker Ju Anqi made There’s a Strong Wind in Beijing, in which he and his crew famously confronted people in both public and private space in Beijing with the same question of whether they thought that the wind in Beijing was strong. Though absurd, this question sometimes opened up the conversations, tricking people to divulge what was really on their mind. Compared to Ju’s film, which is certainly more spontaneous and experimental in nature, Yang’s “Need” is more serious and urgent in tone, and the reason must be traced to Yang’s initial motivation for the project.

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American Idol as… Underground Cinema?

Monday, September 7th, 2009
Jian Yi filming Super, Girls!

Jian Yi behind the scenes of Super, Girls!

Recent d(igital)-generation films are considered “underground” not only due to subject matter. More often than not their production methodology helps define their independence. This is part of a series looking behind the scenes of Digital Underground in the People’s Republic.

It’s true that one standing trope of “underground” Chinese films is a fascination with life on the margins. These are the folks who don’t get any screen time in glossy studio pics – ethnic populations, village life, orphans, petty criminals, drug addicts, homeless migrants, and the list goes on. So it’s more than a little surprising to come across an underground film that takes ten average Chinese female teenagers as its subject. Add to that the inclusion of the wildly popular Chinese version of American Idol, and the choice of subject matter is even more startling.

But this is exactly what Jian Yi, director of the documentary Super, Girls!, did. He figured that the margins weren’t the only populations ignored in mainstream cinema. So Jian Yi picked up his digital camera and, without authorization from the Chinese government or the sponsoring television station for that matter, headed down to the regional auditions for the television contest Super Girl.

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