Posts Tagged ‘yerba buena center for the arts’

“A Must See:” YBCA’s “Fearless” Series Reviewed

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

Frako Loden offers the most comprehensive review to date of the series “Fearless: Chinese Independent Documentaries.” screening at the YBCA. This report was originally published in Twitch and The Evening Class. Special thanks to Michael Guillen.


Karamay (dir. Xu Xin)

The 21st-century marriage of the digital revolution with China’s bid for First World status and the resulting collateral damage, has been a boon for documentary filmgoers outside China. Cheap, portable digital technology has enabled an unprecedented flowering of documentary films about this country. Sadly, these films will probably remain unseen by ordinary Chinese given their subject matter and outspoken criticism of authorities’ neglect and mistreatment of minorities, victims of tragedy and artists. Shot with low budgets and under the radar of government surveillance, these works earn the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts new series title Fearless: Independent Chinese Documentaries.”

Documentary film fans who missed distributor dGenerate Films’ ground-breaking series “China Underground” at VIZ Cinema back in December, or New York’s MoMA Documentary Fortnight in February, have a chance to catch two works from the VIZ program plus newer titles, starting this weekend for three weeks at YBCA.

Many of the six works featured in “Fearless” are long. I like SFIFF’s head programmer Rachel Rosen’s characterization of a recent overall trend in film-festival films: they “find their own length.” The subjects of these works have convoluted histories that need to be told. Conventional running times don’t do them sufficient justice, and the patient viewer at any rate soon finds herself deeply and rewardingly immersed.


“What Else Can We Do?” Personal Responses to Karamay

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

By Kevin B. Lee

Karamay (dir. Xu Xin)

Xu Xin’s devastating epic documentary Karamay is set to make its San Francisco premiere this Sunday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. (Details here). In advance of the screening, I looked back at footage from a discussion held after the film’s New York premiere at the MoMA Documentary Fortnight last month, with director Xu Xin and producer Zhu Rikun both present. Going into the event, I wondered how a local U.S. audience would respond to a six-hour Chinese documentary, and I was especially curious to see how many would stick around for a Q&A session. By the end of the epic screening, a couple dozen people remained in the audience, and from their words they were clearly moved. In fact, the session was not so much dominated by questions and answers as by a series of intense and highly thoughtful responses from several audience members.

It was particularly interesting to hear the reactions of young overseas Chinese students who watched the film, given the film’s critical subject matter as well as past reports of disturbances at Chinese film screenings caused by nationalistic audience members highly sensitive to unflattering depictions of their homeland. (For a vivid example see Jia Zhangke’s first hand accounts of his recent festival experiences.) In the case of this screening, some Chinese audience members expressed a complex and highly personal response to Xu’s film. One viewer remarked how the film maintains a critical view of Chinese society without catering to Western stereotypes:

“What sets your film apart from other Chinese independent films circulating in the international market is that it does not simply fit into a simplified humanistic or humanitarian rhetoric that most Western viewers impose on China’s situation. We tend to demonize China as such, that their educational system brainwashes people and everyone in China just sits there following the rules without any sense of agency over the experience of their own lives. The very structure of your film, especially the beginning shots that take so long with the close ups of each child, and the six hour length of your film, actually demands the viewer to approach China and contemporary Chinese politics and rethink from a critical point of view, not from a simple humanitarian rhetoric of the West. That’s what I think is the most productive part of your film and I appreciate it.”

Another young viewer had an even more personalized response: