Posts Tagged ‘documentary’

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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Chinese Directors Win at HK Documentary Fest, Say They Enjoy Freedom

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

By Kevin Lee

Zhou Hao presents his film "The Transition Period" at the China Documentary Festival in Hong Kong (photo: Associated Press)

The 2011 Chinese Documentary Festival in Hong Kong concluded earlier this month with awards given to The Transition Period by Zhou Hao and One Day in May by Ma Zhandong. The Transition Period will be distributed later this year by dGenerate, which already distributes one of Zhou’s earlier films, Using.

In a report on the festival for the Associated Press, Min Lee describes The Transition Period as “a rare, fascinating look at how the Chinese government operates:”

Guo Yongchang, who is currently serving a seven-year prison term for accepting bribes of 2 million Chinese yuan ($310,000), is shown discussing how to split tax revenue with lower-level officials, meeting with constituents as well as smearing birthday cake onto the face of an American businessman and wining and dining with Taiwanese businessmen in another drunken episode. A secretly recorded sound section shows Guo ordering an aide to return certain bribes.

Zhou said he met Guo at a dinner and the former official quickly agreed to be filmed. He said he got full access – although avoided shooting Guo’s family life. Guo has seen the documentary – minus the secretly taped section – and didn’t object, Zhou said.

When asked if he worried if such a film could cause trouble for him with the authorities, Zhou responded: “my understanding is that you can basically film everything you want to film. The key question is whether you want to shoot something. If you want to shoot something, you can definitely do it.”

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CinemaTalk: A Conversation with Professor Guo-Juin Hong on Taiwan Cinema, 1949 and Documentaries

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

By Michael Chenkin

Guo-Juin Hong is Andrew W. Mellon Associate Professor of Chinese Cultural Studies at Duke University. Hong has published articles on such topics as early Shanghai cinema, new Taiwan cinema, documentary film, and queer visual culture. His essay on colonial modernity in 1930s Shanghai was the winner of the 2009 Katherine Kovacs Essay Award, Honorable Mention, and his dissertation received the 2005 Dissertation of the Year Award, Honorable Mention, both by the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. Hong teaches courses on film theory and historiography, Chinese-language cinemas, melodrama, documentary, and visual culture.

Earlier this year Guo published Taiwan Cinema: A Contested Nation on Screen (Palgrave Macmillan). The book is described as “A groundbreaking study of Taiwan cinema, this is the first English language book that covers its entire history. Hong revises how Taiwan cinema is taught and studied by taking into account not only the auteurs of New Taiwan Cinema, but also the history of popular genre films before the 1980s. This work will be essential reading for students and scholars of Taiwan and Chinese-language cinemas and of great value to those interested in the larger context of East Asian cultural history as well as film and visual studies in general.”

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dGF: Could you tell me a little about your present interests in Chinese language cinema. What are you concentrating on right now, and what do you have planned for the future?

GJH: My book came out in February of this year and it is the first and only full-length book in English language on Taiwan cinema that covers its entire history. In that book, I looked at the question of national cinema as the core problematic because of the unique status of Taiwan. After 400 years of colonial history, Taiwan seemed to straddle between the status of nation and non-nation. Questions of national cinema seem outdated because of all the discussion of the transnational and the global. However, I find that to be over-simplistic. Even though national cinema is a very problematic category, it is still deployed at all times for other minor cinemas in relation to Hollywood. I go through the history of Taiwan cinema and I locate different critical historical moments to test the questions of nation in cinema which is think is still a very productive historio-graphical exercise.

Now that it is done, I hope that it has opened up doors for people to continue paying attention to not only Chinese language cinemas in general, but also Taiwan cinema specifically because especially in English language study, Taiwan cinema before 1982 has always been neglected. It was a situation that didn’t get at least partially corrected until a year ago when I guest edited a special issue for the Journal of Chinese Cinemas, focusing on what we call the “missing years” between 1960 and 1980. Those years were obviously important to the history of Taiwan cinema but also I think it is an important part of the larger cultural history of East Asia. This is the work I have been concentrating on the last few years.

dGF: What about your newest projects?

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Shelly on Film: The Film Festival That Wasn’t

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

By Shelly Kraicer

Since the story made various international news outlets late last month, you may already have heard of the cancellation of this year’s DOChina, the independent documentary film festival scheduled for May 1 to May 7 in Songzhuang, an artists’ village in the suburb of Beijing. Well, it was cancelled, but a number of us still made the one and a half hour trek to Songzhuang, whether out of habit or hope that there would be some films waiting for us.

DOChina was supposed to have screened 26 films to its usual audience of Beijingers, filmmakers, Songzhuang residents, and a number of foreign guests (programmers, researchers, film institute reps) who come to form a regular audience. Alas, this was not to be. Several levels of government, represented at a surprisingly high level, made it clear to the sponsoring organisation of the festival, Li Xianting’s Film Fund that this was not the right time for an independent organization to screen Chinese films that the state has not authorized. The Film Fund organizers, unwilling to have their films vetted in advance, chose to call off the festival.

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CinemaTalk: Interview with Li Ning, Director of Tape

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Li Ning, director of Tape

Tape, a highly experimental documentary by performance artist, dancer and filmmaker Li Ning, made its European premiere last January at the Rotterdam International Film Festival. Since then it has screened at the MoMA Documentary Fortnight and won the Silver Award at the Yunnan Multicultural Visual Exhibitions, aka YunFest. The film makes its West Coast premiere at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts this Thursday April 7 as part of the series “Fearless: Chinese Independent Documentaries.”

The dGenerate catalog describes Tape as follows:

For five grueling years, Li Ning documents his struggle to achieve success as an avant-garde artist while contending with the pressures of modern life in China. He is caught between two families: his wife, son and mother, whom he can barely support; and his enthusiastic but disorganized guerilla dance troupe. Tape shatters documentary conventions, utilizing a variety of approaches, including guerilla documentary, experimental street video, even CGI.

dGenerate’s Kevin B. Lee interviewed Li Ning at the Rotterdam International Film Festival. The following is a transcript of the interview. Translation by Amy Yiran Xu and Isabella Tianzi Cai.

dGF: You were originally a dancer, sculptor and performance artist for many years. How did you begin to make videos? Tape was originally a dance performance piece. At what time did you decide to make Tape as a video?

Li Ning: It began in 2000. I owned a DV camera then. I used it to document my performances, with my troupe, and also our training. It started simple, and I didn’t expect myself to make a documentary. Kevin knows this, I feel strongly about Jinan. I have been seeing certain scenery and objects there for over 30 years. They have left a mark in my heart and in my head. I used this crappy camera and made my first film. It was an amateurish film, which was completed 10 years ago and lasted a little over 40 minutes. In my opinion, it was closely related to Tape. And at a deeper level it shares the same things with those in Tape, such as our human condition, our changing cityscape, the choices that each human being faces.

dGF: This concept of “tape,” how did you come up with the idea of it?

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“What Else Can We Do?” Personal Responses to Karamay

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

By Kevin B. Lee

Karamay (dir. Xu Xin)

Xu Xin’s devastating epic documentary Karamay is set to make its San Francisco premiere this Sunday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. (Details here). In advance of the screening, I looked back at footage from a discussion held after the film’s New York premiere at the MoMA Documentary Fortnight last month, with director Xu Xin and producer Zhu Rikun both present. Going into the event, I wondered how a local U.S. audience would respond to a six-hour Chinese documentary, and I was especially curious to see how many would stick around for a Q&A session. By the end of the epic screening, a couple dozen people remained in the audience, and from their words they were clearly moved. In fact, the session was not so much dominated by questions and answers as by a series of intense and highly thoughtful responses from several audience members.

It was particularly interesting to hear the reactions of young overseas Chinese students who watched the film, given the film’s critical subject matter as well as past reports of disturbances at Chinese film screenings caused by nationalistic audience members highly sensitive to unflattering depictions of their homeland. (For a vivid example see Jia Zhangke’s first hand accounts of his recent festival experiences.) In the case of this screening, some Chinese audience members expressed a complex and highly personal response to Xu’s film. One viewer remarked how the film maintains a critical view of Chinese society without catering to Western stereotypes:

“What sets your film apart from other Chinese independent films circulating in the international market is that it does not simply fit into a simplified humanistic or humanitarian rhetoric that most Western viewers impose on China’s situation. We tend to demonize China as such, that their educational system brainwashes people and everyone in China just sits there following the rules without any sense of agency over the experience of their own lives. The very structure of your film, especially the beginning shots that take so long with the close ups of each child, and the six hour length of your film, actually demands the viewer to approach China and contemporary Chinese politics and rethink from a critical point of view, not from a simple humanitarian rhetoric of the West. That’s what I think is the most productive part of your film and I appreciate it.”

Another young viewer had an even more personalized response:

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CinemaTalk: Zhao Liang presents new documentary Together at Berlin Film Festival

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Zhao Liang, director of the acclaimed films Petition and Crime and Punishment (distributed by dGenerate), was present at the international premiere of his new documentary Together at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival. Here is an unedited video of his Q&A, conducted in Mandarin, English and some German.

In a previous post, Isabella Tianzi Cai wrote:

Together is a behind-the-scenes documentary of Chinse director Gu Changwei’s upcoming feature film Life is a Miracle (2011), which exposes the discrimination faced by HIV/AIDS patients in China. Zhao documented the interactions of the cast and crew as they came face-to-face with the disease during the production. Initially, many only showed fear because of their ignorance of the disease. Their attitude slowly started to change as they learned the science behind it… Together suggests something quite different from Zhao’s previous work style. As a matter of fact, it is not an independent production but a not-for-profit film. Zhao expressed his commitment to making it despite its source of funding because he believed in its educational value and society-changing power. As Edwards quotes him saying, “if the film has social value then it’s worth making.”

Click here to read Dan Edwards’ review of the film, and read his interview with Zhao Liang.

Who’s Using Who? Zhou Hao’s Hall of Mirrors

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

By Dan Edwards

Using (dir. Zhou Hao)

Southern Metropolis Daily has a proud reputation as one of the very few newspapers in mainland China with real teeth, so it’s perhaps not surprising the paper’s ranks have also produced such sharp-eyed documentarian as Zhou Hao. Zhou’s stories focus on minor, charismatic players in contemporary Chinese society, honing in on small stories to make broader points about various social milieux, from the world of heroin addition in Using (2008) to small town politics in The Transition Period (2009). More intriguingly, Zhou’s films also highlight the uncertain, often fraught relationship between documentary makers and their subjects.

Using

Using opens among a group of emaciated junkies living under a highway overpass, a concrete island home in a sea of traffic. The casual presence of death is immediately apparent as we see Ah Long, a man in his 30s, chatting on the phone with a family member of an ailing addict. “He won’t last long,” Ah Long states bluntly. “I’m saying you should come to see him… You can come and have a last look…”

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Profile of Zhao Dayong, Director of Ghost Town and Street Life

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Zhao Dayong, director of Street Life and Ghost Town

By Isabella Tianzi Cai

This entry is part of a weeklong spotlight of newly available titles in the dGenerate Films catalog.

In the Global Times, Chris Hawke (Hao Ying) highlights director Zhao Dayong‘s filmmaking career and three of his documentaries. The article is occasioned by the screening of Zhao’s Street Life (2006) and Ghost Town (2008) at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing.

Street Life and Ghost Town, both available through the dGenerate catalog, have received international recognition in the festival circuit, and continue to garner praise from film critics from around the world. With regard to Street Life, Hawke writes,

Zhao explores how the poorest of the poor prey on each other, and draws parallels and allusions to the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West.

This point is reaffirmed by Zhao: (more…)

A Mad Dance on Shanghai Streets: Zhao Dayong’s Street Life

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

By Sara Beretta

This entry is part of a weeklong spotlight of newly available titles in the dGenerate Films catalog.

Director Zhao Dayong opens his documentary Street Life with Big Fatty, a physically imposing but cheerful homeless man who collects recyclable litter during the day and turns into a “street slam poet” at night. He sits in the middle of Shanghai’s Nanjing Road, a luxury shopping district whose daytime crowds give way to “invisible” people lurking on the streets at night. A sort of Chinese homeless griot, Big Fatty sings from the popular masterpiece Journey to the West (Wu Cheng’en, 16th century): “Oh the great Monkey King! There is no hurry, monkey. The Celestial Emperor has asked you to look after his horses… But the Monkey King didn’t kneel down. He didn’t understand the rules of Heaven.” Big Fatty’s Impromptu recitation of classic Chinese literature constrasts starkly against Nanjing Road’s night landscape of neon signs and Western luxury shops and restaurants.

Since 1845, Nanjing Road (formerly Park Lane or Main Road) has been a bustling commercial artery of Shanghai, rich in history (a tragic accident occurred here in 1937 during the war with Japan) and commerce. Today Nanjing Road is still the main shopping street in Shanghai, alluring people with its copious malls and electronic billboards, the symbol of development and economic success attracting migrants from all over the country. Zhao Dayong traces a vivid and somewhat ghastly fresco reflecting another side of Nanjing Road, a brutal, raw, and real tale about migrants living and surviving on the street.

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