Posts Tagged ‘shelly kraicer’

CinemaTalk: A Conversation with Shelly Kraicer

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Shelly Kraicer

Shelly Kraicer is a Beijing-based writer, critic, and film curator. Born in Toronto, Canada, and educated at Yale University, he has written film criticism in Cinema Scope, Positions, Cineaste, the Village Voice, and Screen International. Since 2007, he has been a programmer of East Asian films for the Vancouver International Film Festival, and has consulted for the Venice, Udine, Dubai, and Rotterdam International Film Festivals.

Shelly has regularly contributed informative and insightful pieces on contemporary Chinese cinema for the dGenerate blog. This time we are pleased to present a lengthier, more casual and free-flowing conversation with Shelly. The conversation touches on the current state of independent film in China, the official and unofficial systems of film production and distribution, and the relationship between Chinese films and international audiences. The interview was conducted by Christen Cornell of Art Space China.

Christen Cornell: What’s the system which allows certain films in China to be shown in commercial cinemas and others not? In other words, what is an ‘unauthorised’ film?

Shelly Kraicer: The classic system for feature fiction films is that there are at least two stages of censorship. One submits a summary of the film, and then when that is OKed you shoot your film, and then you submit a final cut. Then there’s typically a process of negotiation, where it’s not that the thing is banned or the thing can go through – which was the old system, and that’s still how I think a lot of, maybe Western media people who aren’t so specialised think of it. You know, like the old Soviet system? We ban; we pass.

CC: Even the word ‘ban’, I think, is a really Western idea.

SK: Right. And it doesn’t work that way. The film bureau will typically give a list of comments and objections and, quite often, specific scenes or shots, or sometimes it can be a slightly more general objection. And then a filmmaker will get back to them with changes, plus, and/or negotiation about it, and depending on how good you are at schmoozing, you get close to your original cut or you have to do a lot of changes.

The films that the film bureau would say no to just aren’t submitted. So I guess that’s one reason there isn’t a lot of flat banning. You know independent filmmakers, filmmakers that work out of places like Song Zhuang – a film community in Beijing – most of them don’t even submit.

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Chinese Films at Vancouver International Film Festival plus Interview with Zhao Dayong

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

I Wish I Knew (dir. Jia Zhangke)

The Vancouver International Film Festival runs from September 30 to October 16. Dragons and Tigers, the Festival’s perennially stellar lineup of new Asian films, once again presents a strong lineup of titles, thanks to the efforts of programmers Shelly Kraicer and Tony Rayns. Jia Zhangke will serve in the Dragons and Tigers jury, along with Korean director Bong Joon-ho and Canadian helmer Denis Cote.

As part of their VIFF coverage, the Globe and Mail interviews Zhao Dayong, whose award-winning The High Life was included in Dragons and Tigers. They open with the rather exasperating question, “Pitch your film in 30 words or less.” (Has Vancouver gone Hollywood?)

The full lineup of Mainland Chinese films selected for Dragons and Tigers follows after the break (without 30 word pitches, sorry!)

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Shelly on Film: Bumping against Boundaries in Chinese Film Culture

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Thomas Mao (dir. Zhu Wen)

By Shelly Kraicer

During a recent interview with an independent Chinese journalist, I was somewhat taken aback, but also quite amused by her rather pointed question to me: “In an online discussion of an article you wrote recently, some [anonymous] commenter was skeptical that Westerners could be so interested in debating Chinese movies and ideology, when in fact it has nothing to do with them. What do you think?”

What could I think? I remember reading the original comment the journalist was referring to, and noting at the time that the implied (and oft-heard) background to this attitude was something along the lines of “outsiders [like you] are fundamentally unequipped to comment on (write about / research about / review) our Chinese films (painting / dramas / novels), so just what do you think you are doing, anyway?

At the risk of answering one cultural judgment with another, I find this display of an aggressively protective attitude to Chinese culture to be distinctly Beijing-ese. Hong Kong, Taipei and Shanghai tend to be much more relaxed about foreigners in their midst, given their cosmopolitan histories. Their urban intellectual cultures more readily admit “other” voices — foreign voices, alternative points of view — with fewer hangups than Beijing’s thriving and otherwise open intellectual culture. Beijing has long been the capital of mainland Chinese independent film and avant-garde culture. No less than half of the dGenerate Films catalog are by Beijing-based filmmakers: Jia Zhangke, Liu Jiayin, and Cui Zi’en, to name a few. And yet, despite its openness to progressive artisitic activity, Beijing has an intensely policed view of the cultural “other” and the potential role of these “others” in its cultural discourse.

(Article continues after the break.)

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Critics Spar Over Award-Winning City of Life and Death

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010
<i>City of LIfe and Death</i> (dir. Lu Chuan)

City of Life and Death (dir. Lu Chuan)

Lu Chuan’s controversial Nanjing Massacre movie City of Life and Death picked up the Best Director award at the fourth Asian Film Awards, held during the Hong Kong International Film Festival. While the film continues to gain attention following its successful theatrical run in China and international premiere at the Toronto Film Festival last year, it has yet to be shown theatrically in the US, following an aborted spring release with National Geographic.

Meanwhile, it’s generated a bit of a quarrel among film critics. Shelly Kraicer, who reviewed the film earlier on our site, issued a lengthier critique in Cinema-scope. The review has drawn the ire of Asian film stalwart Tony Rayns (who happens to co-program the Asian film selections at the Vancouver Inernational Film Festival), who issues seven bullet-pointed rebuttals to Kraicer’s review.

On the Cineaste website, dGenerate’s Kevin B. Lee has his own take.

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Shelly on Film: The Twenty Minute Standout of Rotterdam

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

by Shelly Kraicer

Condolences (dir. Ying Liang)

I’ve always enjoyed attending the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), which perks up a dark and sleety Dutch mid-winter with what is quite possibly the world’s most creatively curated large-scale festival of art and experimental cinema. IFFR has always strongly supported Chinese language independent films. And films in Chinese usually do quite well there, having won the top prize, the Tiger Award, quite often in past few years (Flower in the Pocket, Malaysia, 2008; Love Conquers All, Malaysia, 2007; Walking on the Wild Side, 2006, China; The Missing, Taiwan, 2004; Suzhou River, China, 2000).

Even if this year’s lineup of new Chinese films might have been a bit less scintillating than usual (though standouts included Yang Heng’s Sun Spots in competition, Liu Jiayin’s Oxhide II, Lou Ye’s Spring Fever, and Xu Tong’s documentary Wheat Harvest), one short stood out: Ying Liang’s Condolences (Weiwen). And the IFFR jury recognized this: Condolences won one of three Tiger Awards for Short Film. It’s a particularly well-deserved prize, in my opinion: this 20 minute fiction short of Ying Liang’s is this gifted young Chinese director’s best work so far.

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Shelly Reviews Nanjing Massacre blockbuster City of Life and Death

Monday, January 25th, 2010
<i>City of Life and Death</i> (dir. Lu Chuan)

City of Life and Death (dir. Lu Chuan)

In the new issue of Cinema-Scope Magazine, our own Shelly Kraicer takes on last year’s Chinese blockbuster about the 1937 Nanjing Massacre, City of Life and Death by Lu Chuan. Shelly ties the film to the legacy of “zhuxuanlu” or “main melody” propaganda films produced by the government-sponsored Chinese film industry:

A look at City of Life and Death‘s genre and narrative strategies can demonstrate its importance in helping to establish what I’d like to call a nascent post-zhuxuanlu cinema. It is a full-out war epic, massively budgeted and vast in ambition. Huge sets of devastated Nanjing were built, and thousands of extras mobilized to illustrate the battle scenes that open the film. Lu films his striking set pieces in a beautifully modulated black and white, where cinematography, art direction, staging, music, and sound design all conspire to create massive, intentionally overwhelming images of violence, horror, and devastation.

Read more of Shelly’s review at Cinema-scope.

For an alternative view of the Japanese occupation of China and the story of “comfort women” – women who were forced to sexually serve Japanese soldiers – check out Ban Zhongyi‘s extraordinary documentary Gai Shanxi and Her Sisters.

Shelly’s Top Ten Mainland Chinese films of the 2000s

Monday, January 11th, 2010

Oxhide II (dir. Liu Jiayin)

Oxhide 2 (dir. Liu Jiayin)

On Wednesday, dGenerate Films will publish the results of its poll of Chinese filmmakers and experts on the top Chinese language films of the past decade. While the poll includes all Chinese language films, we’d like to take a moment to focus on films from Mainland China. Here are Shelly Kraicer’s top ten Mainland Chinese films of the 2000s, with some observations on key developments in the field over the past ten years. Shelly will give a slightly different list that includes all Chinese-language cinema for the official poll.

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The editors of the dGenerate Films blog have asked me to come up with a list of the ten best Chinese films of the decade (2000-2009). I’ve thought about this for several days, and would prefer to call these the ten films from China that I consider to be the most important from the last ten years. This shifts the emphasis from “best”, from some difficult-do-objectify criterion of excellence to one of significance. Equally non-objective, to be sure, but I feel more comfortable with significance as a subjective criterion. This is for several reasons: one in particular is that “best” seems at least to imply a criterion of professional polish, of mastery, that I would not want to over-value while surveying recent Chinese film.

In fact, the key trend, if I can call it that, of the last decade of Chinese filmmaking seems to be precisely its de-professionalization. Filmmaking has moved beyond the academy, the Beijing Film Academy to be exact, responsible for so many filmmakers superbly trained in their crafts, and towards something much more broadly based and open, dominated by amateur digital filmmaking. These young, often self-trained filmmakers aren’t necessarily making the most well-crafted films out there, but their experiments are often among the most important things happening in cinema in this part of the world.

Rather than ranking films (which is sort of silly: what makes #6 better than #7?), I’d like to group my choices into three larger sets, as follows:

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Finding Ways to Fit: Mainland Chinese films at Toronto and Vancouver

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

1428 (dir. Du Haibin)

1428 (dir. Du Haibin)

Part One: Toronto International Film Festival (September 10-19, 2009)

One looks to comprehensive film festivals, such as the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), for an overview of contemporary cinema that offers both breadth and depth. TIFF’s expansiveness, for example, allows one to make some judgments about the relative place of particular kinds of film in the world right now. I would like to try something of the sort with Mainland Chinese cinema in the context of TIFF, in particular how several new films might be situated in the world-cinematic scene.

Although Jia Zhangke seems in the process of retooling his cinema to head in new directions (though his public reaction, uncomfortably aligned with the Chinese government’s, to the Melbourne Film Festival Affair gives one pause), Jia-ist cinema, through its profound effect on most younger independent Chinese directors, seems lately more restrictive than liberating in its influence. Film language in “mainstream” indie Chinese films (both docs and features) seems to have temporarily congealed into something like formulaic liturgies: fetishization of the long take, the distant camera, the objective tone, the unedited minutiae of daily life.

At the same time, commercial Chinese film has adopted its own pathologies, giving us a series of big budget bloated historical epics cautiously tucked away, far from the sensitivities of the Film Bureau, into genres that are safely protected from any possible overt contemporary relevance. Several of these latter works found their way into TIFF, which has frequently, in the past ten years, extended a generous welcome to foreign fare that might attract the attentions of North American distribution. Since sword-wielding costumed Chinese actors sold in the past (thanks, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and your progeny), they have gained a marketable sheen that TIFF is one of the key agents in promoting.

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Shelly on Film: Pushing Beyond Indie Conventions

Monday, October 12th, 2009
by Shelly Kraicer
Betelnut  (dir. Yang Heng)

Betelnut (dir. Yang Heng)

Perhaps I’ve been spending just a bit too much time watching movies in China? I have this recurring daydream, most often when I’m watching a new Chinese film that some enterprising young director has sent me. I always watch every independent film that I receive. You never know what gems might appear unsolicited in the mail. And, even if the film isn’t so terrific, it will still be a useful index of all sorts of interesting trends: it might reveal what young filmmakers in China are filming, how they are looking at the world around them, or, at least, what they think people like me want to see.

The daydream, or perhaps it’s a fantasy, is this. There exists, down some dusty grey hutong alleyway of Beijing, a Chinese Indie Director’s Discount Emporium. You want to make a film? Step right in and assemble your movie at bargain prices. The shelving on the left is stocked with cast members: long-haired village boys, out of school, drifting aimlessly. At the back is a set of grainy, dusty, brown-grey village-scapes, ready to be populated by said drifters. To the right, useful equipment. Some tripods, but with a restriction: they must be set up at least 50 metres from the subjects being filmed. Right beside is a very long long shelf, holding 3 minute, 10 minute, even 20 minute-long takes, offered for a steal at family-sized package prices. Alternatively, you could go for deep discount on little DV cams, with the proviso that, held close to the subjects, they be shaken as vigorously as possible. The dialogue shelves in the centre are threadbare: screenplays for rent are all dialogue-light. And, off in a corner, is a shelf labelled “Prostitutes”. It’s over-loaded, with a three-for-the-price-of-one sale.

This may seem a bit mean. But the people I’m making fun of here, in fact, are international film programmers like me (I select Chinese language films for the Vancouver International Film Festival), not the filmmakers themselves. It seems that many of us (my colleagues from other film festivals, and wouldn’t exclude myself) sometimes seem to select films armed with a checklist of “East Asian art film attributes”, the things that populate the shelves of our hutong indie shop. Who can blame a young director from China, who, with little or no chance of gaining any return on his or her investment within his own country, tries to design a film to suit those foreigners who pay the bills, fund post production, and just might offer an overseas distribution deal?

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Tony Rayns praises Chinese Indies at the Vancouver Film Festival

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

In Joanne Lee-Young’s article for the Vancouver Sun, longtime Asian film programmer and critic Tony Rayns spotlights some of his favorite films in this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival Dragons & Tigers Program of Asian cinema. Our own blog contributor Shelly Kraicer programmed the Chinese titles in the series, some of which are mentioned below:

Rayns: “In the last 10 years or so… nearly all of the creative energy in [mainland] Chinese cinema has come from the independent sector, from kids working outside the film industry.”

This means that when there is an event, like the devastating Sichuan earthquake last year, filmmakers like Du Haibin, “who has always been drawn to the marginal, the dispossessed and people who are socially at the bottom of the ladder,” said Rayns, rush off to film those events.

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