Posts Tagged ‘reel china’

The Dual Lens of Independent Media: Report From Reel China #4

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Mouthpiece (dir. Guo Xizhi)

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.


Lives, Feelings, and Faith: Report From Reel China #3

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Disorder (dir. Huang Weikai)

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 Mirela David

Three documentaries made an impression on me at the 5th Reel China Documentary Biennial: Du Haibin’s 1428, Ji Dan’s Spiral Staircase of Harbin and Huang Weikai’s Disorder. I will compare the three movies, taking into consideration the following aspects: how they approach everyday life, public/private spheres, reality, censorship, themes and genre.

Du Haibin’s 1428 explores the quotidian hardships of the survivors of the Sichuan earthquake: from living in ruins, trying to cook with meager means, and waiting in line to get food from the government, to discussions dealing with compensation and living in temporary housing. Ji Dan’s Spiral Staircase of Harbin examines the inner struggles of two families, surrounding their children and their personal dramas. Scenes of everyday life abound in this documentary too: house chores, cooking, eating, going to the marketplace, bargaining, worrying over money. Huang Weikai’s Disorder, on the other hand, is not so much concerned with elements of everyday life as he is with unexpected, out of ordinary events that can take place, such as the malfunctioning of a hydrant that inundates an intersection, or the various naked people on a bridge interrupting traffic.


Accessing the Everyday: Report From Reel China #2

Monday, December 13th, 2010

1428 (dir. Du Haibin)

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. Be sure to read the first report previously published, “Absurdity, Art and Life on Tape” by Isabella Tianzi Cai.

Accessing the Everyday

By Carol Wang

How does one access the everyday? NYU’s Reel China Documentary Biennial offered an opportunity to consider this question through a selection of contemporary documentaries from independent Chinese filmmakers. The festival began with Du Haibin’s 1428, which documents the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in a cinéma-vérité style. Du, initially arriving on the scene in Beichuan ten days after the quake, captures the images and narratives of a region reduced to rubble. A woman talks about her lost children while doing laundry, a family searches through an empty but intact dormitory for a missing son, and men duck under a crane to grab steel rods from a building site. A young unkempt man, wearing just an ill-fitting winter army coat, ambles across the frame and gazes intently into the camera with a vacant look. There is a considerable amount of news footage available from the days and weeks immediately following the earthquake; much of it is urgent, fast-paced, and sensationalistic. 1428 offers something more understated: a slower tempo, a measure of patience which seems to demonstrate the filmmaker’s concern for his subjects. Despite the abnormalities that define the lives of these individuals, there is very little drama. Real time, when transposed onto the screen, sometimes appears excruciatingly slow.

Du returns six months later to continue filming. It’s winter now, but many are still living in makeshift tent shelters, and continue to rely on government handouts to meet their daily needs. Some, though, have attempted to make their own living – the butcher trucks slabs of meat to the lot where government distributions take place, and teenagers are hawking DVDs and photos of the Beichuan disaster zone to tourists. Du plays an unexpected role here: In response to a question from a tourist, “Is the DVD okay?,” the vendor responds, “Of course, this is the Disaster Zone. If it’s no good, you can bring it back. Look, the media is documenting this” [paraphrased] – and the vendor gestures at Du’s camera, the implication being that the camera is somehow representative of officialdom. Viewers are also implicated, because we too are watching a DVD about the disaster zone.


Absurdity, Art, and Life on Tape: Report from the 2010 Reel China Documentary Biennial

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Tape (dir. Li Ning)

By Isabella Tianzi Cai

Published as part of Dong Week at dGenerate Films, a series of articles on Jia Zhangke and the art world in China.

Absurdity loomed large at the Reel China Documentary Biennial this year, held at New York University from October 15-17. The two film directors on hand, Huang Weikai and Du Haibin, repeatedly used “absurd” to describe the message that they wanted their films to convey. In Huang’s Disorder and Du’s 1428, this sense of absurdity is manifested acutely in their apocalyptic visions of urban Guangzhou and rural Sichuan province, respectively. It is as if in exchange for economic acceleration, China has traded its citizens’ sanity. No one can deny that in China progress is real, but it is also mindless. To quote Jean Baudrillard in his book The Transparency of Evil: Essays on Extreme Phenomena, progress “picks up speed precisely in proportion to its increasing indifference to its original aims.” We can perhaps say that, though the word is derogatory in meaning, “absurdity” is indicative of China’s final arrival at the dawn of post-modernity.

Perhaps no film exemplified this theme more comprehensively than Tape, contemporary avant-garde dancer Li Ning’s five year chronicle of his personal life, alternating between his struggles with two types of “family”: his oft-neglected wife, son and mother; and his enthusiastic but unstable dance troupe comprised of college students. Made amidst a massive urban renovation project performed on his hometown of Jinan, the film is a postmodernist collage of cinéma vérité-style filming of Li’s interactions with his family, direct cinema-style filming of civic incidents, such as three men holding down a woman as her store is shut down, self-reflexive confessions, scripted voice-over narration, computerized special effects, experimental mise-en-scene, dream sequences, dialectical editing, and so on. (more…)

Pictures from the U.S. Tour of Du Haibin and 1428

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Du Haibin speaks at the YMCA Chinatown in San Francisco, event co-sponsored by the S.F. Asia Society

The two-week tour of Du Haibin and 1428 across the U.S. has finally concluded. We were able to collect a few photos along the way. We extend our deepest gratitude to all of the venues and sponsors that played host to Du Haibin and his award-winning film. Special thanks to New York University and Reel China for sponsoring Du Haibin’s first-ever visit to the U.S., which made all of his screenings and appearances possible.

Visit our events page for information on upcoming screenings.

dGenerate is already making arrangements for Chinese screenings and director appearances for the winter and spring. If you are interested in organizing an event, please contact us.

More photos from the tour after the break.


“One of the Most Mesmerizing Films I’ve Seen in Ages.” Review of Disorder in The Atlantic

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Disorder (dir. Huang Weikai)

In The Atlantic, Hua Hsu reviews Huang Weikai’s Disorder, which screened as part of the Reel China Documentary Biennial, organized by New York University, October 15-17, 2010:

Disorder was one of the most mesmerizing films I’ve seen in ages. Rendered in a grainy black and white, the film consists of a random sequence of brief, minute-or-so glimpses into the various spaces of Guangzhou’s public life. It’s bracing, occasionally confusing, and heavily ideas-driven – Weikai assembled the footage from over one-thousand hours of footage he collected from other, amateur filmmakers, and while stitching this footage together, he followed but one rule: No successive scenes could come from the same source tape. It’s a film that aspires toward democracy, that hopes to represent the multitude.

Read the full review.

Disorder is distributed by dGenerate Films.

Reel China is Back! NYU hosts Fifth Edition of Chinese Doc Showcase

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Disorder (dir. Huang Weikai)

The Reel China @NYU Documentary Film Festival presents a sampling of the most outstanding contemporary independent documentaries produced in China. Participating filmmakers range from more experienced professional documentarians to young novices. As their disparate visions extend and overlap, we witness the persistent presence of independent cameras that, amidst the disorienting transformation in China, assures the discovery and documentation of fragments of contemporary reality that are becoming history at breakneck speed.

In addition to screenings of the best new independent documentaries from China, directors Du Haibin (1428) and Huang Weikai (Disorder) will be on hand for discussions following their screenings. 1428 and Disorder are both distributed by dGenerate Films.

5th Reel China@NYU is curated by Zhang Zhen (NYU), Angela Zito (NYU),
with Zhu Rikun (Li Xianting Film Fund) and Zhang Pingjie (REC Foundation)

Presented by the Center for Religion and Media and The Department of Cinema Studies

Sponsored by the Center for Media, Culture and History and China House, NYU.
Support for this event was received from the Asian Cultural Council.

A full list of screenings and events after the break.


In One Week, Du Haibin and 1428 to visit Stanford, SF and NYC!

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Du Haibin, winner of Venice Film Festival Best Documentary Award for 1428

Your chance to meet the celebrated director Du Haibin is getting close! Du Haibin will be on hand at select engagements to present his film 1428, winner of the 2009 Venice International Film Festival’s Best Documentary Prize. A haunting look at a real human tragedy that devastated the lives of millions, 1428 chronicles the days following one of history’s worst earthquakes.

Here’s a list of next week’s events:

Stanford University, California
Pigott Hall
Main Quad, Building 260, Room 113
Director Du Haibin to attend

SF Asia Society
Chinatown YMCA
855 Sacramento St.
San Francisco CA 94108
(415) 576-9622

Cinema Studies Screening Room
721 Broadway, 6th floor
New York University, New York
Director Du Haibin to attend

This screening opens “Reel China, 5th Documentary Biennial at NYU”
Fri-Sunday: Oct 15-18
NYU Center for Religion and Media/Cinema Studies

Maysles Cinema
343 Lenox Ave
Ground Fl., New York, NY 10027
(212) 582-6050
Co-sponsored by Weatherhead East Asian Institute:

Visit the 1428 event page ( for a full list of events.

Will we see you? RSVP attending on our Facebook event page.