This week we are spotlighting the Reel China Documentary Biennial, which held its Fifth edition last October with a showcase of nine recent documentaries produced by independent filmmakers in China. To commemorate the event, we are posting a handful of reports by attendees of the festival.
By Christopher Campbell
Guo Xizhi’s Mouthpiece is part of the recent “vérité” tradition in Chinese documentary that continues to be partly inspired by the work of American filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, known for his faux-objective “fly-on-the-wall” approach to his subject matter. However, the film’s major departure from the conventions of that detached, voyeuristic style with its seemingly invisible camera –and this appears to be true for many other observational documentaries in China right now – is in the way it includes so much acknowledgement of the camera and cameraman, breaking the “fourth wall” of what would otherwise be a strictly empirical perspective.
This actually benefits Mouthpiece thematically with regards to the documentary’s presentation of the confused and complicated concepts of the media. Constantly Guo’s camera is mistaken for or presumed to be part of or representing the news crew(s) he is documenting (they appear to employ the same kind of small DV cameras presumably used by Guo). But perhaps this is not so strange? What, after all, separates the artist’s lens from that of the television journalist’s? Very little, aesthetically. Yet, for a medium and movement that extends from and is able to work outside of the state-run propaganda machine, and which therefore tends to be thought of as a greater outlet for the independent voice, the documentary comes across as the true mouthpiece of the title.