Posts Tagged ‘interview’

CinemaTalk: Interview with Professor Eugene Wang on Chinese Art and Film

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

By Michael Chenkin

Professor Eugene Wang

Eugene Yuejin Wang is Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art at Harvard University. We recently spoke with Professor Wang about his interests in Chinese art and Chinese film, the areas of intersection between these two fields, and his interest in painter Liu Xiaodong, who is the subject of Jia Zhangke’s documentary Dong. Dong will screen Monday 9/26 as the opening film of the 11-film series on Chinese independent film at Doc Films in Chicago. In this conversation Professor Wang reflects at length on the way Liu and other artists work in relation to the idea of nationhood, especially in regards to national disasters such as the 2008 Beichuan earthquake in Sichuan. Wang pays particular attention to Liu’s 2010 work “Getting Out of Beichuan,” which Wang considers “marks a new stage and possibly a new turning point in the contemporary Chinese art scene.”

A native of Jiangsu, China, Wang studied at Fudan University in Shanghai (B.A. 1983; M.A. 1986), and subsequently at Harvard University (A.M. 1990; Ph.D. 1997). He was the Ittleson Fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in Visual Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (1995-96) before joining the art history faculty at the University of Chicago in 1996. His teaching appointment at Harvard University began in 1997, and he became the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art in 2005.

He has received the Guggenheim Fellowship, Charles A. Ryskamp Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, and postdoctoral and research grants from the Getty Foundation.

His book, Shaping the Lotus Sutra: Buddhist Visual Culture in Medieval China (2005) has received the Academic Achievement Award in memory of the late Professor Nichijin Sakamoto, Rissho University, Japan. He is the art history associate editor of the Encyclopedia of Buddhism (New York, 2004).

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dGF: I understand that a lot of your past research focused on Medieval Buddhist art and visual culture. Recently you have been researching Chinese film. Where did these interests arise? In addition, is there any synergy between inquiries into Buddhist art and Chinese film?

Eugene Wang: Before I started researching medieval art, I was deeply engaged in Chinese film. I actually wrote a script and published a few essays. Film has always been one of my side interests. I’m always intrigued by how people screen disparate images together. You have a set of images. They may or may not have a relationship with one another. Somehow you string them together and you have an image flow. In cinematic terms it would be called montage. If these images are on a wall, such as in Buddhist caves and wall paintings, then you have an iconographic program. There is something very interesting about the visual logic underlying this flow of images.
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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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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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Interview with Beijing Queer Film Festival’s Yang Yang

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011
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from bjqff.com

By Ariella Tai

Beijing Queer Film Festival, a biennial celebration of gay, lesbian and queer films held biannually, recently enjoyed its tenth year running. On Artspace China, Christen Cornell conducts an interview with the festival’s executive director, Yang Yang. Yang has been with the festival since the beginning, providing an essential space for the queer and allied communities of Beijing despite the fear of government pressure. She observes, “…we always have an audience. It’s funny, other film festivals spend all their time and energy on promotion, while our biggest concern is keeping the festival quiet so as not to inform the police. But then once the festival begins, the people come. The people just come naturally.” The overall curator of the 2011 program, Chinese-American filmmaker Doris Yeung, however, held the underground nature of the Chinese LGBT scene in comparison to America 25 years ago. Cornell muses, “this was an exciting thing, as if the underground nature of China’s queer community gives it extra energy.”

This year’s festival was able to profile prestigious filmmakers such as Barbara Hammer and Mickey Chen. The international section of the program was guest-curated by the Mumbai International Queer Film Festival and this year premiered a new section focusing on the work of overseas Chinese filmmakers. Many of these films do not only focus on queer issues, but on other questions of identity. This open environment and encouragement to learn and reflect seems to be what draws many young people to the screenings.

CC: I wonder if your festival provides an opportunity for all kinds of young Chinese people to express their ideas about sexuality. I met a number of young, straight people at the opening last night and they seemed very curious to learn and think about sexuality generally, without feeling the need to ‘fit in’.

YY: That’s one of the aims of the festival. If only I could have attended a festival like this when I was a teenager – something that showed me there were so many different possibilities, so many different choices and ways of being – I would have been so much happier.

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The Future of Chinese Film Criticism

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011
wang_yang.jpg

Wang Yang (photo credit: Grace Wang)

By Ariella Tai

In similar form to her fascinating report on Chinese Documentaries in her Chicago Sun Times-based blog, Grace Wang, has written of her search for the new face of Chinese film criticism. Somewhat surprisingly, that face belongs to a young former law student named Wang Yang, who is the founder of Youth Film Journal, the first independently published film journal in China today. This publication is virtually the only professional, non-academic, publication devoted to film criticism in contemporary China, despite the fact that the film industry is one of the fastest growing in the world, producing over 500 films in the past year.

Her extensive interview with Wang Yang reveals that, in China, there is a rapidly growing community of young, self-educated cinephiles who are hungry to write about film and share their ideas with others. As is the case with many young film critics in the modern era, both DVD and Internet culture have played an integral role in this development. Youth Film Journal provides an outlet for these voices, outside of academia or the mainstream hype bankrolled by studios. Yang provides an in-depth context for the Chinese film criticism scene and analyzes the potential of these young film critics to eventually; he hopes, compete with the current canon of criticism largely dominated by Western voices.

Several excerpts from the interview are copied after the break. For the full text, please visit Grace Wang’s blog on the Chicago Sun Times.

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Oxhide director Liu Jiayin interviewed on Artspace blog

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Oxhide II (dir. Liu Jiayin)

By Ariella Tai

On the University of Sydney’s blog Artspace, Christen Cornell interviews Liu Jiayin on her acclaimed films Oxhide and Oxhide II (both available in the dGenerate catalog). Despite being one of the youngest artists of the current generation of independent Chinese filmmakers, she is credited with being one of the most innovative. In this interview, she discusses her aesthetic choices, as well as her reasons for using daily household routines as the focus of her films. She gives an especially provoking response when asked what she wants the viewer to draw from her extended observations of daily household tasks, quipping that “Maybe it’s just how to make a bag, or make dumplings.”

CC: But we’re shown the years of repetition in this family’s daily tasks, we’re shown their skills, and how each member of the family has their own way of doing things. There’s a feeling of respect in the film.

LJY: True. These are the details of life that I think are interesting but that are often overlooked, especially within films, so I make a special effort to film them. Usually in films, if people are cooking or eating dinner, it’s never to show that people cook or eat dinner. It’s only ever used as a backdrop in which to show or say something else. So for example during dinner two people have a fight; or somebody announces they’re pregnant; or somebody announces they’re having an affair. And cooking scenes are often used to express that a couple are happy together; or to say something about a family; or the relationship between two people. These scenes are hardly ever about the cooking or eating.


I think these daily routines are interesting in themselves. I don’t have to add anything else to these moments in order to make them interesting to me. I don’t think you need somebody to catch fire, or for somebody to die, to make them worthy of observing.

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CinemaTalk: Interview with Huang Weikai, Director of Disorder

Monday, May 16th, 2011

"Disorder" director Huang Weikai

"Disorder" director Huang Weikai

Disorder, a bold documentary by Huang Weikai, has been steadily garnering recognition over the past year, screening at multiple venues across America. It’s been mentioned as one of the best films of 2010 by Moving Image Source and Film Comment magazine, and recently won Best Documentary at the Ann Arbor Film Festival. Seeing it at the Reel China Film Festival in NYU, Hua Hsu of The Atlantic called it “one of the most mesmerizing films I’ve seen in ages.”

Disorder screens this Friday in Chicago at The Nightingale as part of the White Light Cinema series, and Saturday and Sunday at Anthology Film Archives in New York City. Details for both events can be found here, as well as on the Chicago event’s Facebook page.

We have translated an interview with Huang Weikai that took place during one of the film’s first screenings at the 2009 Beijing Documentary Week (DOChina) and was originally published on the Fanhall Films website. (Sadly, both the Fanhall website and DOChina have been shut down this year; we hope that access to outstanding films like Disorder, as well as information about them, will continue to be accessible somehow in China.)

Q: What made you want to make this film?

Huang: I have lived in the city for a long time, and I have always been very concerned with city life. In recent years, cities have evolved a lot. This explains why I want to make a documentary about present city life in China. This film reflects what I think about city life, especially the chaotic side of it.

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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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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.