Posts Tagged ‘documentary’

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?

(more…)

Meishi Street Reviewed in Senses of Cinema

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

In the online journal Senses of Cinema, Luke Robinson reviews the documentary Meishi Street (directed by Ou Ning) which will screen this weekend at the Melbourne International Film Festival, as part of “Street Level Visions“, a series of contemporary Chinese independent documentaries.

Meishi Street shows ordinary Beijing citizens taking a stand against the planned destruction of their homes for the 2008 Olympics. An excerpt from Robinson’s review:

(more…)

Call for Papers: Chinese Documentary Panel at Rocky Mountain MLA

Friday, January 6th, 2012

The 2012 Rocky Mountain MLA will be held in picturesque Boulder, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, October 11-13.

Panel title: Recreating Reality: Contemporary Chinese Documentary Films

In recent years, documentary films have enjoyed unprecedented popularity with filmmakers from Taiwan, the PRC, and Hong Kong, who use their cameras to record and represent reality in their individual societies. This panel focuses on the themes, problematics, and/or techniques of documenting reality on the screen.

Please submit a proposal of no more than 250 words to Sylvia Lin (slin@nd.edu) by March 1, 2012. Notice of acceptance or rejection will be sent out on or before March 31, 2012.

Chair: Sylvia Li-chun Lin, University of Notre Dame Alternate Chair: Christopher Lupke, Washington State University (lupke@wsu.edu)

Shelly on Film: Fall Festival Report, Part Two: Under Safe Cover, a Fierce Debate

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

By Shelly Kraicer

Shu Haolun's "No. 89 Shimen Road" won the top prize at CIFF, but wasn't shown on Awards Night.

The Nanjing-based China Independent Film Festival (28 October-1 November 2011), unlike the Beijing Independent Film Festival described previously, benefited from a substantial degree of official and semi-official “cover”. Unlike BIFF, there is a certain amount of practical compromise with official bodies and officially approved cinema: purity isn’t such an issue. Co-sponsors include the Nanjing University School of Journalism and Communication, The Communication University of China (Nanjing) and the RCM Museum of Modern Art. The second day of CIFF includes a forum attended by local propaganda department officials. A sidebar of the festival (nicknamed the “Longbiao Section” for the dragon-headed insignia that appears at the beginning of all officially approved film prints in China) included screenings in a luxurious commercial cinema of several films that that are strictly speaking non-independent (i.e. censor-approved) but are made in a spirit of independence. These films would not appear at BIFF, for example, but might show later in official venues like Beijing’s Broadway Cinematheque MOMA, where approved “arthouse cinema” (i.e. non-commercial) finds a refuge in Beijing.

(more…)

A Review of Beijing Besieged By Waste, Screening Saturday at Asia Society

Friday, October 28th, 2011

By Isabella Tianzi Cai

Police inspect illegal cooking oil, better known as 'drainage oil', seized during a crackdown in Beijing (Photo: AFP/GETTY)

Part of the documentary film series Visions of a New China at the Asia Society

Beijing Besieged by Waste
Dir. WANG Jiuliang
2011. China. 72 min. Digibeta. English subtitles.

October 29, 2011 – 3:00pm – 4:20pm
New York
725 Park Avenue, New York, NY
$7 members; $9 students/seniors; $11 nonmembers (Series discount available. Click on series link for more information.)

———-

Recycled cooking oil is known as “di gou you” or “gan shui you” in Mandarin Chinese and has been translated into “gutter oil”,”sewage oil”, or “drainage oil” in English. It first appeared in the Chinese vocabulary roughly a decade ago, when unlicensed production began to exist. This inferior form of cooking oil contains carcinogens such as aflatoxins; it is both unhygienic and unsafe for consumption.

China uses a massive amount of cooking oil every year. Although official statistics are unavailable on the website of the National Bureau of Statistics, 29.3 million tons of vegetable oil was forecast as the total amount of consumption for 2010 to 2011, an almost 9% increase from 26.85 million tons for 2009 to 2010, compared to 22.5 million tons for 2006 to 2007 (Agri Commodity Prices). In 2010, 15% of the total was estimated to go into waste (Xinhua). And out of that amount, 10 – 20% is said to be legally recycled and made into biofuel, while the remaining would likely end up in the hands of underground cooking oil recyclers, who would process it and then sell it back to Chinese restaurants (Telegraph). Because the net profit of such recycled cooking oil was nearly 200% of what it cost, it was an extremely lucrative business (Xinhua).

Concerned with the badly polluted city that he called home, Chinese freelance photojournalist and independent filmmaker Wang Jiuliang began an investigation of all of the landfill sites in Beijing in October 2008. His project lasted two years, during which time he also came into direct contact with some cooking oil recyclers on the outskirts of Beijing and captured them on camera. Responsibly speaking, Beijing’s pollution and its attendant problems were indeed bigger and deeper than they seemed. Now his documentary Beijing Besieged by Waste (2010) on the investigation has been completed. It was screened for the Foreign Correspondents Club in China on October 13, 2011 at the Embassy of Poland in Beijing. It was on the China Next (CNEX) Campus Tour in Canada last month. It screened once at Beijing’s art house movie theater, Broadway Cinematheque MOMA (BC MOMA). And as of right now, it is playing at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival (Oct 13-22).

Below are some of my thoughts on the film and information that I have gathered about it.

(more…)

Review: The Transition Period shows the true power center of Chinese government

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

By Isabella Tianzi Cai

"The Transition Period" shows the inner workings of local politics in China

U.S. ambassador to China Gary Locke’s recent arrival in Beijing generated intense discussions among Chinese nationals about how Chinese civil servants compare unfavorably to their American counterparts. As reported in a September 20th article in The Wall Street Journal’s blog “China Real Time Report,” the central government and its affiliated media bodies such as the Guangming Daily and the Xinhua News Agency tried to cast aspersions over the political motives behind the U.S. government’s choice of a Chinese-American ambassador. But Chinese online netizens focused on something entirely different. After seeing photos of Locke buying his own coffee and carrying his own bags, and learning that he flew coach to China, Chinese web commentators assailed their civil servants for squandering taxpayers’ money on ridiculously extravagant meals, cars, and the like, and for shirking physical work and other chores that they consider to be below their dignity.

Zhou Hao’s 2011 documentary The Transition Period, which will be playing next Monday in Chicago’s Doc Films series on Chinese independent cinema, looks at the working life of one typical Chinese civil servant by the name of Guo Yongchang before his transfer to a new post within the Chinese government. Shot over the last three months of Guo working as the party secretary of the Committee of the Communist Party of Gushi County in Xinyang Municipality of Henan Province, this documentary presents different facets of Guo’s work as a medium- to low-level Chinese civil servant in a leading position. This article aims at laying out some groundwork in China’s political system and its political environment for first-time viewers of the documentary, as sometimes the stories in the documentary are more complicated than their presentations. (Spoilers may follow.)

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)