Chinese Reality #26: The Questioning

To commemorate the film series Chinese Realities / Documentary Visions at the Museum of Modern Art (May 8-June 1), each day this month this blog will publish a brief primer on one of the 28 films selected in the series.

Today’s film:

The Questioning (dir. Zhu Rikun)

The Questioning (dir. Zhu Rikun)

Cha fang (The Questioning)

2013. China. Directed by Zhu Rikun.

MoMA program description:

As a producer, festival programmer, and distributor, Zhu Rikun has long served as a bastion of China’s independent documentary movement. On July 25, 2012, he visited three human rights workers in Jiangxi province and was questioned by local police. Zhu turns their encounter into a real-time demonstration of civil disobedience, deconstructing the logic of interrogation.

Excerpts from select reviews and writings:

In this cramped space-time, the obviously biased police control turns into a scene from the theatre of the absurd around a misunderstanding about Zhu Rikun’s nationality.

When a police officer, with the his passport in hand, insistently demands him to give spoken confirmation of his nationality, bureaucratic pavolvism is driven to the brink of slapstick, especially as the ultra-smart team of sleuths, unaware they are being filmed, switch on their own camera… Decapitating some of them, the framing reflects – albeit involuntarily – the robot-like, servile attitude of these headless chickens, the strong arms of power that even forget the meaning of the question they are asking. The effect of this minimal dispositif would be outright comic if it did not reveal, in twenty minutes of real-time footage, the violence of the State’s oppression.

- Charlotte Garson, Cinema du Reel

At present, the best that artists can do is to persist as far as they can within the limitations of the system, but the results often lack creativity. Optimism would be misplaced. I still doubt whether there is a way out when there is clearly a lack of ideas or skills and when there is such a restrictive environment. Things will change if genuinely independent film-makers leave this circle and take responsibility themselves. Only then will there be a glimmer of hope.

- Zhu Rikun, The New Statesman, October 2012