Focus on China Doc

In February, I presented a special programme in Berlin at Directors Lounge, I thought I could post also the presentation text I wrote for the brochure and which is now available on the fragments' blog. presentation of films on pdf files can be downloaded here.

This special focus presented at Directors Lounge 2007 in Berlin (08-18 February 2007) comprises of several long and short videos and illustrates the singularity and the richness of independent Chinese documentary in a concise manner taking from an artistic and cinematic point of view.

For a certain time now, Chinese independent documentary has been noticeably flourishing. It is even interesting to observe how fast and how much it has produced and how it will evolve. With the self-development of alternative structures, festivals and platforms in Mainland China, it surely presents a potential to expand and at least to alter the cinematic landscape and the film industry in general.

The rise of new technologies and the use of the DV format has enabled directors to make and show works much more easily. This has favoured the expansion of the documentary genre. DV has also generated a closer and more direct relationship with the real. Exploration of the urban environment and the city activity, depiction of daily life and observation of the consequences of the rapid changes in China, but also the affirmation of people living on the fringes of mainstream society, the common people, the individual, the personal and subjective are some of the topics that can be found in those films and generally in independent productions from China today.

However this selection of films does not represent all the variety of what it is being produced nor all the possibilities that documentary genre can offer. Not only do these films share a common spirit of independence and the will of self-engagement, they also assert a personal view and a self-implication in their own work and a strong complicity with the characters being filmed. More than just using documentary genre as a simple record of a documentation for purely anthropological, social, political, ethnological purposes, they affirm a certain way of filmmaking, loose, improvised or on the contrary structured, planned, sometimes even a combination of both and propose through an artistic vision an observation of the world around them, another look.The camera immerses us in a particular atmosphere and a well-defined environment, captures the flowing of the movements, follows some singular characters in their intimacy or personal living without necessarily interfering and suggests various sentiments and considerations towards what is being filmed.

Anecdotic, descriptive, poetic, allegorical or symbolic, the image delivers a powerful visual significance by substituting the narration by autonomous image sequences in order to allow the image to speak for itself. Thus, in Outside, the succession of different anecdotic and suggestive images, taken from close-ups or from far away, which moreover makes a distortion of perspective, reveals their full significance with the preceding and the following image but also within the image itself. The juxtaposition of little incidents, of dailylife events gives away a subjective approach as well as an accurate and perceptive look on the surroundings, on the world passing by. Rather similar in the contemplative manner, but more picturesque, is The People of Yangtze River. Its composition of the image, its plays of light and shade, its vivid colours offer a poetic study of the association of people and its environment, of human activities and the calmness of the natural space, sketching with a particular emotion a portrait of the daily life of the common people in a timeless landscape. Using the camera as a portrayal of a defined social group of people, the migratory workers, but without adding any interviews, is an approach that Carriage adopted. Its realistic black and white cinematography and hand-held camera seem to be rather related in somehow to realist photography and direct cinema and reflect the will to record images. On the other hand, Paigu centers on an individual and rather touching portrayal of a single man and describes endearingly his personal and private life. Divulging his intimate feelings and affairs, the film brings out a narrative structure close to a fiction’s. The complicity between the filmmaker and his character is discernible. This strong connivance and familiar relationship between the filmmaker and his characters are also perceptible in Dream Walking. Blurring the line between documentary, experimental, improvised film and performance, and yet, the film is very well-framed, most of the time composed by static shots and close-ups. This makes a balance between the chaotic movements and actions of what it is being filmed and the static images of the steady camera which does not impose itself. Entirely dedicated to the artistic achievement, the assertion of the body and of the nudity expresses the questionnings and the derision of a society in full upheaval. Unifying image and ideology, Beyond Sound proceeds the image in its visual and allegorical language in order to provide sharp points and a relevant position regarding to the current state of China.

Marina Foxley.

This special programme was made by the collaboration of Marina Foxley and Zhu Rikun (Fanhall Studio, Beijing) and was made possible thanks to the great support of Fragments (Nantes) and Directors Lounge (Berlin).


Unknown said…
Who are the top Chinese filmmakers- be they documentarians or fictive directors? And not the Hong Kong action types?
Ouyang Feng said…
Well, it's a bit hard to say the top filmmakers and it's surely subjective. I guess, the most interesting ones are, to name just a few :
From Mainland China and of today, I'd say Wang Bing, Jia Zhangke, Jiang Wen (also famous actor), Ning Ying, Huang Wenhai, Wang Xiaoshuai, Zhang Yuan, Zhang Yang (although I'm not much into his films), Wang Chao, Zhu Wen (also a writer and scriptwriter) ...
Directors with debut films : Gu Changwei (Peacock), Yang Heng (Betelnut), Li Hongqi (So Much Rice), Lu Chuan (Kekexili: Mountain Patrol, although I didn't like it that much) and many others...
Other directors : Ning Hao (Mongolian Ping Pong, Crazy Stone), Xu Jinglei (A Letter from an Unknown Woman, also a famous actress).