Southern Metropolis Daily has a proud reputation as one of the very few newspapers in mainland China with real teeth, so it’s perhaps not surprising the paper’s ranks have also produced such sharp-eyed documentarian as Zhou Hao. Zhou’s stories focus on minor, charismatic players in contemporary Chinese society, honing in on small stories to make broader points about various social milieux, from the world of heroin addition in Using (2008) to small town politics in The Transition Period (2009). More intriguingly, Zhou’s films also highlight the uncertain, often fraught relationship between documentary makers and their subjects.
Using opens among a group of emaciated junkies living under a highway overpass, a concrete island home in a sea of traffic. The casual presence of death is immediately apparent as we see Ah Long, a man in his 30s, chatting on the phone with a family member of an ailing addict. “He won’t last long,” Ah Long states bluntly. “I’m saying you should come to see him… You can come and have a last look…”
Chris Hawke profiles documentary filmmaker Zhou Hao in the Global Times. In the past, Zhou’s probing work has screened on CCTV and other Chinese mainstream broadcast outlets, but his three most recent documentaries “on drug users, policemen, and a cadre accused of corruption” have been off-limits as of yet. Zhou maintains that his purpose in filmmaking is not politically motivated: “My films have no political purpose. I observe people, I don’t judge them.”
Zhou’s films Using, The Transition Period and Cop Shop screen this weekend at the UCCA Contemporary Art Center in Beijing.
A former Xinhua News Agency and Southern Weekly photographer, Zhou Hao began making independent films in 2002. Among his perceptive and socially-conscious documentaries are Houjie Township (2003), about migrant workers in a Chinese export-processing zone; Senior Year (2005), about high school students preparing for the gaokao, college entrance exams; Using (2008), about a couple struggling with heroin addiction; The Transition Period (2009), about an outgoing county party secretary; and Cop Shop (2010), about a small police station next to the Guangzhou Railway Station. Zhou Hao’s films have been screened at film festivals in Amsterdam, Paris, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Yunnan, Chicago and other cities, as well as at the 2004 Shanghai Biennial and 2005 Guangzhou Triennial.
This weekend from October 29-31 the UCCA will present Zhou’s films Using, The Transition Period, and Cop Shop, with the director present to discuss his work.
Film Schedules Friday, Oct.29
19:00 Using,104 min + director Q&A
18:00 Cop Shop,67 min + director Q&A
16:00-18:30 The Transition Period,114 min + Indie Film Forum Discussion
Moderator: Liu Shu (indie workshop)
Guests: Zhou Hao (director); Professor Cui Weiping (Beijing Film Academy)
dGenerate Films is proud to announce that Crime and Punishment by Zhao Liang and Using by Zhou Hao, two important works from China’s contemporary independent documentary scene,are now available for institutional purchase in the US as part of the dGenerate Films catalog. Together, these two films offer a candid, revealing look at two facets of crime and law enforcement in China: the interrogation tactics of military police in Northeast China, and the lives of drug addicts in Guangzhou.
Amidst the barren wintry landscape of Northeast China, Chinese military police officers rigidly enforce law and order in an impoverished mountain town. They raid a private residence to bust an illegal mahjong game, casually abuse a pickpocket accused of throwing away evidence, and berate a confession out of a scrap collector working without a permit. The police switch between precise investigative procedure, explosions of violent fury, and moments of comic ineptitude, all captured incredibly before the camera.
A prime example of how independent documentaries are on the vanguard of Chinese cinema, Crime and Punishment is an unprecedented look at the everyday workings of law enforcement in the world’s largest authoritarian society. With penetrating camerawork, Zhao Liang (Petition, 2009 Cannes Film Festival) patiently reveals the methods police use to interrogate and coerce suspects to confess crimes – and the consequences when such techniques backfire. With a cold, objective eye that depicts reality in great detail while withholding judgment, “Zhao’s artistry is instantly apparent.” (Robert Koehler, Variety)
In the January 2010 issue of China Perspectives, Jie Li of Harvard University has a lengthy appreciation of Zhao Liang’s documentaries Crime and Punishment and Petition. Here is an excerpt on Crime and Punishment:
With patient long takes and an ambivalent gaze that is in turn complicit, compassionate, or critical, Crime and Punishment shows us the human beings in military uniforms – their capacity for rage, sympathy, and fear – as well as how the power authorised by these uniforms might dehumanise – through violence and humiliation – not only those suspected to be criminals but also the police officers themselves. Apart from discipline and punishment, much police power resides with surveillance, but a sustained look at the other can also generate empathetic recognition, and returning the gaze may well be the first step for the powerless to empower themselves.
For three years, filmmaker Zhou Hao chronicled the lives of Long and Jun, a couple struggling with heroin addiction in Guangzhou. Zhou captures Chinese junkie subculture, its members languishing in a slum flophouse, the equivalent of a modern day opium den. When Long is hospitalized after a failed robbery, Zhou speaks out from behind the camera to intervene. Still, Long and Jun persist, soon dealing drugs full-time to make ends meet. As the couple increasingly offers lies for answers, Zhou must confront his ethical responsibilities to them, as a friend and a documentarian.
Using probes a dark, cruel reality of contemporary Chinese society that has rarely been seen by any audience. Addicts disclose techniques for dealing with police, confronting sham suppliers and staying high throughout the day. Zhou’s unflinching depiction of his friends’ repeated attempts to quit blurs the line between filmmaker and subject, and raises provocative questions about the ways in which each uses the other.
Organized by Indie Workshop, Non-Profit Incubator (NPI) and the Iberia Center for Contemporary Art, the Eyes on the World series, running April 16-20, examines significant social issues facing contemporary China through the lens of these ten documentary films. These screenings will take place at the Iberia Center for Contemporary Art in the 798 Art District in Beijing.
Full list of films after the break (Screening times are not listed – check ICCA website for more info):
Zhang Xianmin (photo courtesy China Independent Film Festival)
One of our key partners in China is Zhang Xianmin, who is a leading figure of the independent film scene. Film producer, writer, programmer: these are just a few of his credentials. And now, Zhang will be contributing a series of articles for our website, offering his own perspective on Chinese indie cinema.
To kick things off, here are his thoughts on six recent Chinese independent documentaries, offering his own insights into the background on the films and filmmakers. A couple titles happen to be dGenerate titles.
On Friday, November 6, the Gibsone Jessop Gallery in Toronto, Canada, launches a screening series of contemporary Chinese films in partnership with dGenerate Films. This five film series will begin with Ying Liang’s The Other Half, “a fierce and harrowing cry of political rage.” (The New Yorker)
This marks the first in a five-film screening series at Toronto’s Gibsone Jessop Gallery. Gibsone Jessop not only showcases international contemporary art from around the globe, with a special focus on China, they also host nightly events such as film screenings, theater and music that deepen the understanding of the cultures and context their artists create within. The next five Fridays will highlight different dGenerate films. Subsequent screenings include San Yuan Li, Little Moth, Using, and Queer China, ‘Comrade’ China.
dGenerate Films is the leading distributor of contemporary independent film from mainland China to audiences worldwide. We are dedicated to procuring and promoting visionary content, fueled by transformative social change and digital innovation.