Posts Tagged ‘lu xinyu’

New Book on the New Chinese Documentary Movement

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011
By Isabella Tianzi Cai

The New Chinese Documentary Film Movement: For the Public Record (authors Chris Berry, Lu Xinyu, Lisa Rofel)

A new book by three eminent China scholars is out – The New Chinese Documentary Film Movement: For the Public Record edited by Chris Berry, Lu Xinyu, and Lisa Rofel. Peter Monaghan has a full report for Moving Image Archive News.

Rofel, Professor of Anthropology from the University of California Santa Cruz, and Berry, film professor from the University of London, first received a grant from the University of California’s Pacific Rim Research Program to do research on independent Chinese documentaries in 2003. Back then (and as still is the case), the state film archive of China, China Film Archive/China Film Art Research Institute, did not bother building a collection of independent Chinese documentaries. In order to get their hands on these undocumented works, the two professors relied entirely on the close-knit community of independent filmmakers and a few film enthusiasts for second-hand copies.


Ghost Town: Getting Back to Roots

Friday, October 16th, 2009

by Lu Chen

Zhao Dayong’s Ghost Town is about alienation and distance, about aimless wanderers and broken hearts, yet it is shot with the tenderness of a root-seeking journey. In this three-hour documentary, the meditative rhythm parallels the pace of life depicted. The scale of screen time embodies the scale of lost history the film tries to capture through extraordinary visual sensitivity.


Sixty Years of Unsanctioned Memories in the People’s Republic

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

At the 60th anniversary of the founding of the P.R.C., published a list of fifteen key independent documentaries as their tribute to the celebration. Entitled “Sixty Years of Unsanctioned Memories in the People’s Republic,” these digital video films present vivid pictures of Chinese life, society and landscape rarely seen in government-approved news or the overwhelming reports about China in mainstream western media. They present and reflect on modern Chinese history from the perspective of common citizens and marginalized social groups. German-Jewish political philosopher Hannah Arendt distinguishes private and public realms as “the distinction between things that should be hidden and things that should be shown.” These independent works try to break the line and present the hidden, “private” scenes and stories to the public. The list also links to the synopses of the films, some with English translations.


CinemaTalk: A Conversation with Lu Xinyu

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

dGenerate Films presents CinemaTalk, an ongoing series of conversations with esteemed scholars of Chinese cinema studies. These conversations are presented on this site in audio podcast and/or text format. They are intended to help the Chinese cinema studies community keep abreast of the latest work being done in the field, as well as to learn what recent Chinese films are catching the attention of others. This series reflects our mission to bring valuable resources and foster community around the field of Chinese film studies.


Lu Xinyu (photo courtesy of UCLA International Institute)

Lu Xinyu is Professor and Director of the Radio and TV Department, School of Journalism, Fudan University, Shanghai, China. Professor Lu is widely regarded as the leading scholar on independent Chinese documentaries. Her influential book Documenting China: The New Documentary Movement (Beijing, SDX Joint Publishing Company, 2003) was the first book to systematically theorize the New Documentary Movement in China from the beginning of 1990s. She spent the past academic year as a visiting scholar in the department of cinema studies at New York University.

Selected Publications by Lu Xinyu:


  • Writing and What It Obscures (Guangxi Normal University Press, 2008)
  • Documenting China: The Contemporary Documentary Movement in China (SDX Joint Publishing Company, Beijing, 2003)
  • Mythology. Tragedy. Aristotle’s Art of Poetry: New Concept to Ancient Greek’s Poetics Tradition (Fudan University Press, Shanghai, 1995)

Papers and Articles:

  • “The Power and Pain of Chinese New Documentary Movement”, Dushu No. 5, 2006.
  • “Ruins of the Future Class and History in Wang Bing’s Tiexi District”, New Left Review, 31 Jan/Fab 2005. London.
  • “Tiexi District: History and Class Consciousness”, Dushu No. 1, 2004.
  • “The History of Documentary and the Document of the History”, Journalism Quarterly, Winter, 2003.
  • “A Memorandum about Contemporary Chinese Documentary Development”, South China Television Journal No. 6, 2002 and No. 1, 2003.
  • “Began from the Other Side: New Documentary Movement in China”, Frontiers No. 3, 2002.

In this interview conducted by dGenerate’s Yuqian Yan, Lu Xinyu told us about her current work during her visit in New York and how she was attracted to independent Chinese documentary from an aesthetic and humanist background. Starting from Aristotle’s poetic concept of “tragedy”, she led us to understand the New Documentary Movement as a unique art form that depicts the tragic life of ordinary people in the rapidly changing Chinese society. The interview was conducted in Chinese. Full English transcript after the break.

Play the Podcast (in Mandarin Chinese) (Time: 16:43)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download it here (right-click to download). (File Size:7.7 MB)


Chinese Indie Docs Hit Harvard and Santa Barbara

Monday, April 13th, 2009

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending “Emergent Visions: Independent Documentaries from China” a special series held at Harvard University. In addition to screening eight films over three days, the University brought from China Zhu Rikun, head of Fanhall Studio and programmer of the Beijing Independent Film Festival and the China Documentary Film Festival, as well as three directors of films in the series, to present the works and engage in discussion with audiences. The series will travel this coming weekend to Santa Barbara, with Zhu and the three directors in tow.

The Harvard screenings were anchored by a panel session, chaired by Harvard professor Eileen Chow, that offered three distinct takes on the burgeoning indie documentary scene in China. Lu Xinyu of Fudan University examined what she dubs the “First Generation” of Chinese documentarians, describing their chief characteristics and principles: an emphasis on social observation executed via direct cinema practices, and a rejection of the mainstream practice of idealization in representation. Lu noted an emerging “Second Generation” of documentarians whose works reflect an increasingly subjective and self-reflexive approach.

Zhu Rikun offered his own historical account of the explosive production of Chinese docs over this decade, commenting specifically on how affluent members of Beijing’s art scene (such as Li Xianting, who funds both festivals programmed by Zhu) became invested in supporting documentaries. Zhu observed that Beijing artists and art patrons were concerned that an increasingly commercialized contemporary art scene was growing disconnected from China’s reality. They felt the need to bolster the connection between art and society, and found documentary as their ideal medium for this endeavor. Zhu also remarked on how the availability of digital video and editing equipment accelerated the documentary movement at every step, from production to distribution; and how the internet helped organize of a critically engaged audience across the country, giving rise to an independent film festival circuit that has become increasingly visible and vital over a remarkably short period.

Markus Nornes, professor of Asian Film and Video at Michigan and currently visiting scholar at Harvard, offered a provocative presentation titled “Demolition, Christianity, and the Slaughter of Animals Great and Small.” The title reflected his paper’s overall concern with thematic and formalistic conventions emerging among Chinese documentaries. At the same time Nornes acknowledged the vitality of the documentary circuit, specifically in venues like YunFest where local film projects and exhibitions have engaged their communities, reflecting the potential of these festivals to reflect the heterogeneity of China’s culture. His talk concluded with concerns over the future of the independent spirit of Chinese documentary filmmaking as the genre matures under the auspices of industrialization and professionalism.

As for the films in the program, the ones I managed to catch were uniformly outstanding, and having three of the directors present greatly enhanced the experience. Xu Xin‘s two films reflect a fascination with cultural practices in danger of extinction, whose practictioners are seemingly out of step with their times and surroundings. Torch Troupes follows a traditional Sichuan opera singer as his troupe struggles to get by, while Fangshan Church depicts a Jiangsu congregation of mostly elderly Christians. Wang Wo’s experimental documentaries Outside and Noise take the direct cinema approach to the realm of avant gardism, immersing the viewer in a non-narrative, highly sensory experience of urban China in its visual and aural splendor. Zhao Xun‘s Two Seasons, which recently premiered at YunFest, was a true crowd-pleaser, depicting the rigid, at times absurdly comic social dynamics that govern a middle school in Hubei.

The series also included Feng Yan‘s Bing Ai (sort of a feminist version of Jia Zhangke’s Still Life), Zhao Liang‘s Crime and Punishment, a remarkable documentary on police interrogation tactics, and Zhao Dayong‘s Ghost Town, a devastating three-part chronicle of an existence in utter poverty in a remote southwestern mountain town.

Kudos to J.P. Sniadecki, Ying Qian and Jie Li at Harvard for assembling an impressive program.

Emergent Visions: Independent Documentaries from China was co-sponsored by the Harvard University Asia Center, the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, the Harvard East Asia Society, the department of Visual and Entertainment Studies, and the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts.