Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"Documentary is My Lifelong Career” – an interview with Zhang Tianhui

This will be my last post for a couple of weeks as I'm off to Australia for a well-earned break. There are some changes afoot for 2011 which I'm hoping will give me more time to devote to Screening China. Until then – happy holidays!

But before I go...

Back in October I was lucky enough to catch a pair of documentaries by Zhang Tianhui at the Get It Louder Festival in Beijing. Both 7th Medical Ward and Farewell, Beijing (poster above) revealed Zhang's talent for sympathetically sketching his subjects while gently revealing their all-to-human failings. You can read my reviews of the films here.

After the screenings in Beijing, Zhang headed south to film the Asian Games in Guangzhou, so I was unable to interview him in person. He kindly took the time, however, to answer a few questions about his filmmaking via email – a translation of our interaction is below.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Looking Back, Looking Forward: Ruan Lingyu & Stanley Kwan at Beijing's BC MOMA

Maggie Cheung as Ruan Lingyu in Stanley Kwan's Centre Stage (1992).

Last week Beijing's sole art house cinema, BC MOMA, hosted a ten day retrospective focussing on China's legendary silent screen actress Ruan Lingyu. On Sunday (December 12) the season drew to a close with a grand finale featuring a live musical accompaniment to Ruan's most famous role as a doomed Shanghai prostitute in The Goddess (1934), followed by Stanley Kwan's 1992 Ruan Lingyu biopic Centre Stage, starring Maggie Cheung. Kwan was on hand to introduce the film and offer some stirring words about the need for greater freedom in China's contemporary film industry.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Zhao Liang on his new documentary Together

A tearful moment for Hu Zetao (left), one of the HIV+ volunteers working on Gu Changwei's drama Life is a Miracle, captured in Zhao Liang's new documentary Together.

Zhao Liang is undoubtedly one of the leading lights of the independent Chinese documentary scene, and in the past I've written about his films Petition and Crime and Punishment. Recently Studio-X, a space in central Beijing run by Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, hosted a series of screenings of Zhao’s earlier works, alongside a small exhibition of his photographs – more on this in a future post.

At one of the screenings, I was surprised to hear from Jillian Schultz of Three Shadows Photography Art Centre (an institution that has supported much of Zhao’s work) that Zhao had just completed a film about HIV in China that had been passed for official release. Given the controversial nature of Zhao's earlier documentaries I was surprised to hear his new work was going into cinemas, and frankly dubious about whether this information was correct. A few days later, however, my friend Wu Jing, programmer at Beijng's BC MOMA cinema, mentioned to me that they had a new documentary – which turned out to be none other than Zhao Liang's new film, Together.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

dGenerate's Karin Chien in Beijing

dGenerate Films President Karin Chien.

In my last post I mentioned the October visit to Beijing of dGenerate Films President Karin Chien, who was in town meeting many of the directors dGenerate works with, as well as seeking out new talent. I had the pleasure of spending some time with Karin when she was here and was impressed by her quiet eagerness to listen and absorb the views and experiences of people on the ground, from local filmmakers to observers like myself.