Posts Tagged ‘shelly kraicer’

Shelly on Film: Fall Festival Report, Part One: Keeping Independence in Beijing

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

By Shelly Kraicer

Just having a party: This year's Beijing International Film Festival had to take a more casual tone. (photo: ArtInfo)

I’m often asked how it is that I keep track of new Chinese independent films. One answer: just be in China for a few weeks in October and November. The film festival season here is packed right now. Two major indie film festivals have just concluded: the 6th Beijing Independent Film Festival (BIFF, in the Beijing exurb of Songzhuang) and the 8th China Independent Film Festival (in Nanjing). In Beijing itself, we’ve had the 4th First Film Festival (an international festival for films by first-time directors) at various campuses in China including Peking University, and the 6th Chinese Young Generation Film Forum. Coming up is the 5th Chongqing Independent Film and Video Festival (CIFVF).

That’s a lot of films and festivals. Of course there is substantial overlap, especially between the three main indie film festivals (BIFF, CIFF, CIFVF). BIFF and CIFF each had its own issues this year: external and internal conflict that showed just how much pressure independent filmmakers are under in China at the moment. These conflicts, which I’ll describe below, also demonstrated the urgency with which these filmmakers conceive of their practice, their autonomy, their mission, and their very existence.

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Shelly on Film: Chinese Selections for the 2011 Vancouver Film Fest

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

By Shelly Kraicer

Fan Bingbing in "Buddha Mountain," one of several films directed by Chinese women directors at Vancouver International Film Festival

I’ve chosen 22 films for this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival (September 28 – October 14 2011), 17 feature films, 2 medium length fiction films and 3 short films. My usual beat is films from Chinese speaking territories (this year: mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Malaysia).

The films are listed below, with commentary that I’ve written for the VIFF programme catalogue. I’d like to point out a few things about the selection. I’m particularly pleased to have chosen films by seven Chinese-speaking women filmmakers this year: seven out of twenty is not a bad ratio, I think, and speaks to the increased opportunities for young independent filmmakers in Hong Kong and Taiwan (see Heiward Mak, Mo Lai, Chen Chiu-ling, and Jessey Tsang below), to make fine work. They follow in the footsteps of veterans like Ann Hui (A Simple Life) and younger established filmmakers like Li Yu (Buddha Mountain).

The continued vitality of the mainland Chinese independent documentary sector is also evidenced by my selection for VIFF, with four powerful indie docs in this year’s programme: Shattered, Apuda, Are We Really So Far From A Madhouse, and Bachelor Mountain. If strictly independent feature film making (i.e. Films that bypass the censorship system) isn’t looking at its strongest this year (with notable exceptions like Pema Tseden’s Old Dog and Zou Peng’s Sauna On Moon), then the fascinating cross-over space populated by films of independent spirit who do manage to get the Film Bureau’s approval seems more vital this year than ever (see Buddha Mountain, Mr. Tree, Here There, The Sword Identity).

In other territories, Taiwan’s blockbuster Seediq Bale is complex and troubling epic, and despite (or because of?) this, is on track to become the biggest blockbuster hit in Taiwanese film history. And Hong Kong’s sole remaining resident master “local” filmmaker Johnnie To has come up with a personal / political work (Life Without Principle) that revises the terms of his art (no guns, no fights) while intensifying the power of his social critique.

Full list of films after the break.

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History in Progress, with Gaps: The National Museum of China, Part Two

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

By Shelly Kraicer

Visitors seem dazzled by the might of painterly propaganda in the "90th anniversary of the CCP" painting exhibit.

A major function of the National Museum of China is its definition and display of Chinese history under the Party. This section, somewhat romantically entitled “The Road of Rejuvenation” takes up a major part of NMC’s northern section. I walked through it all, from the Opium War to “China in Space.”

Inside the Grand Hall. If it looks like an elegant version of a terminal, it's because the German architects specialize in airports.

First, we enter a sculptural antichamber. This has got to be one of the weirdest immersive sculptural environments I’ve ever seen. An enormous entrance hall has been clotted with what looks like baked clay (I guess it’s depressingly expensive bronze that preserves the original rough slapdash clay “style” of the sculpture). On the left, scenes of feudal China (somewhat more beguiling than depressing, to my eye). On the right, scenes of modern China under the Leadership of the Party (really bleak and ugly, a lot of it is weirdly blank but one can make out a kindergarten model style mini-HK skyline, a high speed train rushing across the Tibetan plateau, and a fast cosmic ball of something, whirring with lumpy clay energy. In the middle, brutally (or, rather, I should say boldly) cleaving past and future in two is a sleek perforated sculpture, designed like a retro jet age style symbolic representation of what must be the progressive force of the Chinese Communist Party (think 1930s deco aggressively angled car hood ornament the size of a small jet). Suitably ideologically seasoned, I entered the Road of Rejuvenation galleries.

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Heavenly Culture, with Product Placement: A Tour of the National Museum of China, Part One

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

By Shelly Kraicer

The gallery of Ancient Chinese art in the National Museum of China may be the new highlight of anyone's visit to Beijing.

Beijing’s new National Museum of China opened in March 2011. It’s been steadily expanding inside since, opening more and more galleries to the public. Recently, the galleries of ancient art were finally opened, so I decided it was time to make a thorough visit (I’d been once before in early May just to take a look at the building) and see how the Chinese nation choses to present itself in a grand museum setting.

First of all, the setting. It is very grand. Super gigantic-grand. Reports in Western media describe an amusingly direct series of phone calls by planners of the National Museum of China (NMC) to western museum experts. Sample questions: “What is the floor space of the Louvre?” “What about the British Museum in London?” Clearly, the architects’ brief included making this the Largest Museum In The World (to match Beijing Capital Airport’s Terminal 3, the Largest Building In The World; the Great Wall, and so on). Apparently they succeeded, and out of the shell of two older museums on Tiananmen Square, the Museum of Chinese History and the Museum of the Chinese Revolution, the National Museum of China is being born, a giant monument to China’s fabled 5000 year history, and as we shall see, to the faithful guardianship of this immense history by the Chinese Communist Party. “Is being born” because the NMC is still a work in progress. Vast swathes of the building are still uninhabited, forthcoming galleries uninstalled. But I would estimate that at least half of the Museum is now open, more than enough for a full day of provocative and sometimes entrancing museum-going.

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Shelly on Film: Beijing’s First Official Film Festival

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

By Shelly Kraicer

I previously wrote here about the cancellation of the 2011 Beijing Independent Documentary Film Festival (DOChina) at Songzhuang. As a companion piece, let’s take a look at the other important film event scheduled for roughly the same time in Beijing, the First Beijing International Film Festival (Di yi jie Beijing guoji dianying ji), which took place from April 23 to 28, 2011.

The BJIFF Opening Gala was more than spectacular, as far as these things go. An obviously huge budget was expended on large scale staged showpieces, set up for what was reported to be a “live television broadcast” managed by CCTV3, in Beijing’s most spectacular theatre, the Opera Hall of National Center for the Performing Arts just beside the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square.

CCTV news clip Here.

It makes sense that the fledgling BJIFF would shower a large part of its apparently substantial resources on this splashy opening show. The festival seems to be about scale, civic and national power, and about positioning Beijing — institutionally, internationally, industrially, and in the media’s frame of reference — as the centre of China’s visible film culture. That Shanghai has been host to China’s most prominent long-running film fest, in fact the only one with a real international profile, was an impediment to this image Beijing is eager to project. Hence the BJIFF, tasked to reposition in “film festival” terms Beijing as the acknowledged and unrivaled centre of Chinese cinema.
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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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Cinema Pacific Film Festival Opens Today – Guest Curator Shelly Kraicer Interviewed

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

Shelly Kraicer

The Cinema Pacific Film Festival’s special series of Chinese cinema opens today and runs until April 10 at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Full screening details can be found here. dGenerate titles Disorder, 1428 and Oxhide II are featured in the program, with Oxhide II director Liu Jiayin appearing in person.

We caught up with Shelly Kraicer, Cinema Pacific’s first Festival Fellow, who curated the program, to get his thoughts on the series and the films he selected.

dGF: There are dozens if not hundreds of great Chinese independent films made in the past several years. How did you decide on the films for this program? What did you want to convey about Chinese independent film through your selections?

SK: I wanted to pick films that represented a range of different kinds of filmmaking that independent Chinese artists are doing now: experimental fiction, experimental documentary, on-the-spot documentary (jishi jilupian) and something unique from recent fiction film. Liu Jiayin is the most exciting young exponent of something like experimental-narrative-documentary-style hybrid filmmaking, now, so her two Oxhide films will already cover almost the entire range of films I was looking for. They’re challenging, and they’re fun, and they are very important.

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Shelly on Film: The Use and Abuse of Chinese Cinema, Part Two

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

By Shelly Kraicer

This is the conclusion of Shelly Kraicer’s essay “The Use and Abuse of Chinese Cinema (in the West).” Click here for the introduction and first half of the essay.

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Oxhide 2 (dir. Liu Jiayin)

4. Exemplary Asian independent art cinema. This misreading has something in common with Number 1 (“Exotic, colorful diversion”) , but in a more rarified, sophisticated form. It also contradicts (but exists in a weird sort of symbiosis with) Number 5 below. There is supposed to be something essentially “Asian” (meaning usually East Asian) about the predominant mode of contemporary art cinema now celebrated in festivals worldwide. Films that convey China’s backwardness (see Number 6 below) often employ a Andre Bazin-influenced mise en scène that is post-realist in its effect. Long takes, a demandingly slow pace, opaque storytelling, a distant motionless camera, inexpressive, non-professional actors, lots and lots of visual and narrative blankness, emptiness, stillness. Examples abound, the best recent exponents being Yang Heng (Betelnut, Sun Spots), Yang Rui (Crossing the Mountain), and in her own inimitable way, Liu Jiayin (Oxhide and Oxhide 2).

This analysis reduces an often surprising diversity of film styles into something that is assumed to spring, essentially and almost automatically, from a specific historical and cultural background, with local visual and pictorial traditions transmuted directly into their filmic correlatives. This in a sense over-simplifies and over-particularizes Chinese filmmakers who are utterly fluent (more than most of us) in the world-cinema image market (you can easily find films from everywhere, from every era, in China’s wonderfully eclectic bootleg DVD shops). By insisting on the “Chinese-ness” of these films, a special understanding, a privileged access to the films’ “essences,” may reserved for Sinological experts.

5. International art cinema master(s’) works. On the other hand, it’s just as easy to abuse Chinese cinema as some sort of proof that master directors work in a universal style recognizalbe to experts, critics, professionals, and well-trained festival audiences. In absolute contradistinction to Number 4 above, this attitude says “you don’t need to know anything about China and its specific cultural history to appreciate these films. They are great cinema, full stop”. This can be a branding exercise, like Number 2 (“Commercial entertainment”), but one for a more discriminating audience who needs to be reassured that she or he will be able to enjoy the latest Chinese masterpiece without unduly stressing over its foreignness. This is global art, i.e. It belongs to “Us,” not to its incidentally “Other” creators. Hegemony reasserts itself as art / film criticism, denaturing a film for our appropriation and viewing pleasure (with emphasis on the pleasure). This tendency can be seen in the flattering (for a forty-year-old director) inclusion of the latest Jia Zhangke film I Wish I Knew in the “Masters” section of the Toronto International Film Festival programme.

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Shelly on Film: The Use and Abuse of Chinese Cinema, Part One

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Opening Ceremony of the 7th China Independent Film Festival in Nanjing (photo courtesy of CIFF)

By Shelly Kraicer

While attending the China Independent Film Festival last month in Nanjing (October 2010), I was invited to give a talk the next morning at the International Youth Art Film Summit Forum, a symposium for young directors organized by the Festival and Nanjing University. I couldn’t really decline, especially since I was benefiting from the CIFF’s generous hospitality and its wonderful programming. The problem: “forums” like these in the Chinese film festival context are rather more like formal ceremonies, featuring a series of presiding officials who drone out banal speeches welcoming the scholars and celebrating young Chinese directors’ unbridled creativity.

Various foreign guests are typically invited to give what (is hoped) are equally generic talks outlining their respective institutions and their wholesome and uncomplicated eagerness to cooperate with China, Chinese directors, and Chinese cinema institutions. I was advised to do likewise. I came up with something that I hoped might interest or at least not bore some of these young filmmakers who were supposed to be in the audience. My talk was called “The Use and Abuse of Chinese Cinema (in the West)”. Since it was to be an eight minute speech (including translation, I think I went a bit over), I boiled it down to a list of seven abuses.

What follows below is a recreation from memory of the speech I gave, somewhat expanded from the original version. I’ve also added various clarifications (and complications), and the examples not included in the speech itself (as I was advised not to name specific films in front of officials). I’ve set off these extra sections by italicizing them, so what I hope results is something like a text that alternates between more formal discourse and a parallel informal stream of commentary that supplements, qualifies and even challenges my main argument.

—–

I start with a question: why do western film festivals need Chinese cinema? Films from the People’s Republic of China are eagerly sought after by festivals around the world, enjoy a generous portion of festivals’ programming slots, and receive a substantial share of prestigious competition prizes. This doesn’t happen by accident. The international festival system does not privilege films on the basis of “excellence” alone. Complex questions of power, commercial viability, and national self-representation come into play. So, phrased another way, the question becomes: What functions — political, commercial, and cultural — does Chinese cinema serve in the western festival and distribution system? How are these films used, what interests does programming them serve?

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Shelly on Film: Deeper Into Dragons and Tigers

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

By Shelly Kraicer

Rumination (dir. Xu Ruotao)

The 2010 Vancouver International Film Festival (September 30 to October 15) has just concluded. This was my fourth year programming Chinese language films for VIFF’s Dragons and Tigers section for East Asian cinema; this year’s edition featured 43 features and 21 shorts, co-curated by Tony Rayns and myself. I selected 19 features and three shorts: 12 from China, 4 from Hong Kong, 3 from Taiwan, 2 from Malaysia, and one from Singapore. Details of the films from the People’s Republic of China, including comments derived from my catalogue notes for VIFF, can be found below.

Within the D&T section, the Dragons and Tigers Award for Young Cinema, programmed by Tony Rayns, featured 8 films by young, as yet “undiscovered” directors. The jury, comprised of Jia Zhangke, Bong Joon-ho, and Denis Côté, awarded its prize to the Japanese film Good Morning World!, directed by Hirohara Satoru. Two special mentions were awarded: one to the Chinese film Rumination (Fanchu), by Xu Ruotao, and one to Phan Dang Di’s Vietnamese film Don’t Be Afraid B!

As usual, I chose more films from China than from any other territory. I try each year to balance at least two goals in my programming: I want to give VIFF audiences a sense of the increasing variety of Chinese language filmmaking, both in the independent sector, and in commercial genres. At the same time, it has always been VIFF’s policy and my own personal preference to highlight the work of independent young filmmakers working outside of the system of official censorship and distribution (independent tizhiwai films). Indie documentary filmmaking continues to be particularly strong in China, and I could only choose a few examples: it would have been easy to devote the bulk of my 9 feature length film slots to Chinese independent films this year.

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