Posts Tagged ‘wang bing’

Wang Bing’s “The Ditch” Reviewed

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

By Dan Edwards

This review originally appeared in Screening China.

Prisoners in Wang Bing’s The Ditch.

Bedraggled men sit in a seemingly empty desert landscape, the bareness of their surrounds strangely beautiful on screen. We see the group from a distance, as if the desert itself is a brooding presence observing these puny beings on its surface. The men are allocated numbers and descend into caves dug into the desert floor, where earthen “beds” carved out of the wall await them. Welcome to the world of Wang Bing’s The Ditch, surely one of the most stark depictions of the deprivations of the Maoist era ever committed to celluloid.

Many Chinese features since the 1980s have touched on the suffering inflicted by Mao’s endless mass political campaigns, but few have been so brutally raw in their depiction of the era’s cruelties. The Ditch plays out on the edge of the Gobi desert in China’s northwestern province of Gansu, where thousands were exiled after taking up Mao’s invitation to speak out about societal problems during the Hundred Flowers Campaign of 1957. The wave of criticism spooked the regime – or perhaps as some claim the entire setup was designed to lure out dissenters. In any case, the Anti-Rightist Campaign followed hot on the heels of the Hundred Flowers movement and saw many of those who had spoken out imprisoned or otherwise persecuted. As some of the characters in The Ditch recall, many suffered for ‘crimes’ such as pointing out incidents of corruption or suggesting the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” should be widened to become a “Dictatorship of the People.”

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Blurring the Boundaries Between Art and Film in China

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Meishi Street (dir. Ou Ning)

By Sara Beretta

Everyone, in a sense, is an artist, in that we all strive to better express ourselves. As bricoleurs, we all do our best to depict our thought, wishes and fears, making use of the media we were given (voice, gestures and action, broadly speaking) and employing techno media, in the big and blurry cloud of creativity, communication and experimentation. People mix sounds, images and what else occurs in order to be better heard and understood or, on the contrary, to conceive meanings in different and alternative, sometimes obscure and imaginative, ways.

It’s not that surprising, then, that boundaries are blurring in art, as more creatives are exploring liminal areas and practices to narrate themselves and the world they live in. This is true for contemporary Chinese artists and filmmakers, mixing practices and channels to convey their ideas. Renowned examples include artist Ai Weiwei’s work in documentaries, Ou Ning and Cao Fei’s projects in video art and films (including dGenerate’s titles Meishi Street and San Yuan Li, as well as the productions Renminbi City and Vitamin Creative Space), multimedia works by Yang Fudong, and Song Tao’s Birds Heads. In a recent article in Red Box Review, curator Samantha Culp expresses her wishes for the outcome of this mixing, specifically in how it might help sustain China’s independent film scene:

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Wang Bing’s Surprise Feature Stirs Critics at Venice

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

The Ditch (dir. Wang Bing)

The 67th Venice Film Festival concluded last weekend; this year’s edition was not without the venue’s characteristically strong showing of Chinese titles. There were new films by action movie helmers Tsui Hark, Andrew Lau, and John Woo (who received the festival’s lifetime achievement award). Documentary filmmaker Huang Wenhai, who won an award two years ago in Venice for his film We, had two features screening this year. And Zhang Yuan, one of China’s first independent filmmakers from the vaunted 6th Generation, showed up with a state-approved 3-D animated feature(!) But the Chinese title that arguably made the biggest stir was The Ditch, the first narrative feature directed by Wang Bing.

Wang made a name for himself with his documentaries, most notably the nine hour epic West of the Tracks. The Ditch was a twelfth-hour surprise addition to the Venice competition lineup. Gina Doggett of AFP describes the film: “Set in 1960, the film chronicles the conditions facing inmates accused of being right-wing dissidents opposed to China’s great socialist experiment, condemned to digging a ditch hundreds of miles long in the dead of winter.”

Nigel Andrews raves in the Financial Times:

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Chinese Avant-garde Shills for Prada: Is This the Future of Indie Filmmaking?

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Wee Ling Soh of the Shanghaist tipped us to “First Spring,” a nine minute video directed by avant garde filmmaker Yang Fudong (Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest) as an artsy promotional tie-in for Prada. Video after the break.

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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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CinemaTalk: Conversation with Richard Brody, Film Editor of The New Yorker

Monday, December 7th, 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.

Richard Brody (Photo courtesy of <i>The New Yorker</i>)

Richard Brody (Photo courtesy of The New Yorker)

Richard Brody began writing for The New Yorker in 1999, and has contributed articles about the directors François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, and Samuel Fuller. Since 2005, he has been the movie-listings editor at the magazine; he writes film reviews, a column about DVDs, and a blog about movies, The Front Row. He is the author of the book “Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard.”

In this interview, dGenerate Films’ Kevin Lee talks to Richard Brody about his top ten films of the 2000s, in which he lists three Chinese feature films: Jia Zhangke’s The World, Wang Bing’s Fengming: A Chinese Memoir, and Ying Liang’s The Other Half. This conversation touches on all three films, and why Brody considers Chinese cinema to be “the crucial story in cinema of the past decade.” Brody also discusses two other films on his list, Jean-Luc Godard’s In Praise of Love and Claude Lanzmann’s Sobibor, 14 October 1943, 4PM, and their connection to the Chinese films he selected.

Brody’s full top ten list, and a topical index of the podcast with timecode follows after the break.

Play the Podcast (Time: 22:39) (right click to download)

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Chinese Independent Documentaries at Light Industry (NYC)

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Crude Oil (Photo courtesy of Light Industry)

Triple Canopy and Light Industry present the East Coast premiere of Wang Bing’s Crude Oil, a fourteen-hour film installation tracking a fourteen-hour workday of crude-oil extraction in northwest China, from Wednesday, November 4 to Sunday, November 8. The film will be viewed from 9am until 11pm each day, running five times in its entirety.

Accompanying Crude Oil in an adjacent room will be a film program by Matthew Coolidge of the Center for Land Use Interpretation and Lucy Raven (7:30pm, Wednesday, November 4) as well as screenings of Wang Bing’s Coal Money (4pm, Saturday, November 7) and West of the Tracks (12pm, Sunday, November 8). A curated DVD library of related films will be available for viewing throughout the week.

The central theme of the program, as stated in a note from Triple Canopy, is “work, workers, workplaces, and the landscapes of labor,” which provide a dwelling place for art in today’s world of “sheer speed, placelessness, and impersonality of global finance.”

The screenings will be held at Industrial City, 220 36th Street (between 2nd and 3rd Avenue), 5th Floor, Brooklyn, New York. More details can be found here. Descriptions of Wang Bing’s films follow.

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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., Fanhall.com 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.

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Ghost Town: a New Chapter for Chinese Cinema at the New York Film Festival

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009
Ghost Town (photo courtesy of Fanhall Films)

Ghost Town (photo courtesy of Fanhall Films)

Marking a breakthrough for the Chinese digital filmmaking community, director Zhao Dayong’s Ghost Town (Fei Cheng, 2008) was selected for the 47th New York Film Festival (September 25 – October 11), as the only Chinese entry in the lineup. This low-budget documentary shot on HD has never been shown in any major festival outside China; as of this article it has yet to even appear on IMDb and All Movie Guide. Yet it joins a prestigious NYFF lineup that features new works by renowned directors such as Alain Resnais, Pedro Almodovar, Jacques Rivette, and Lars von Trier. Its inclusion in the NYFF represents a first in the festival’s program: a nod to China’s digital generation of documentary filmmakers.

According to the website of Fanhall Films, a multi-faceted indie film support organization based in Beijing, the three-hour documentary is not about phantoms, but the Lisu and Nu minority villagers in the abandoned halls of a remote former communist county seat in the southwestern province of Yunnan, China. Consisting of three chapters, “Voices,” “Recollections,” and “Innocence,” the film observes and records the mode of existence of the nameless and the forgotten, offering extraordinary insights into such topics as religious faith, relationships, juvenile deviants, generational differences, and lost history.

Dennis Lim, a member of this year’s NYFF jury and a major voice in promoting Chinese independent cinema, shared his reasons for selecting the film with dGenerate Films’ Kevin Lee: “Ghost Town is one of the most surprising and rewarding films I’ve seen all year, one of the most important films to have emerged from the booming (but still underexplored) field of Chinese independent documentaries.” Fellow jury member Scott Foundas also considered the film an exciting discovery, exclaiming: “I didn’t think there was another Jia Zhangke or Wang Bing lurking out there, but it turns out there is!”

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The Birth Story of dGenerate Films, Part 3

Monday, July 27th, 2009

dGenerate Films head honcho Karin Chien reminisces on the how this company came to be. Read parts 1 and 2 of this three part series.

My first trip to Beijing was a startling revelation. The city seemed to me a mix of Las Vegas and Eastern European Communist aesthetics. The smog, traffic, and sprawl of Beijing were mind-boggling (and I’m an LA native). The underground, independent film community, though, was small and, as I soon found out, very inviting. A few introductions from colleagues in the States got me meetings with key influencers, including professor/producer/actor Zhang Xianmin, critic/curator/filmmaker Zhang Yaxuan, and programmer/critic Shelly Kraicer. I knew I found the beating heart of the community when I walked into an Communist Bloc-era apartment, in the middle of a Friday night, saw leading filmmaker Wang Bing chain-smoking in the corner, and sat down for a serious discussion about the politics of world cinema.

That first trip solidified for me the importance of distributing these films to an American audience. Not only could we return revenue to filmmakers, so they could keep making films, but we had an opportunity to open a window onto contemporary China. There is no easy access in the States to contemporary media made about China, from within China, by Chinese filmmakers. The opportunity and need were, and still is, clearly present.

When I returned to the States, we quickly got to work on watching films and pulling the company together, which took a good year of hard work, including a second visit to China in Fall 2008 (see Digital Underground in the People’s Republic). But to this day, I remain eternally grateful to the filmmakers, professors, programmers and critics who welcomed me with open arms on that first trip to Beijing. Without their faith in our work, and the trust of the filmmakers, we wouldn’t be granted the access that truly sets dGenerate apart.