Saturday, July 23, 2011

You Can’t Build on an Emptiness – IFChina Original Studio

Earlier this year I was privileged to spend a few days staying with filmmaker Jian Yi in Ji'an, Jiangxi Province, at his IFChina Original Studio. The studio is an exciting initiative recently launched by Jian Yi and his wife Eva. The following is an article I wrote for RealTime magazine in Australia about IFChina's work.

Originally published in RealTime arts magazine.

You Can’t Build on an Emptiness – IFChina Original Studio

IFChina Original Studio founder and filmmaker Jian Yi, outside the studio on the campus of Jinggangshan University. Photo: Dan Edwards

Ji’an doesn’t look like the most auspicious place for a groundbreaking experiment in China’s budding civil society. The town doesn’t appear in any English language guidebooks, the local station platform is just a low-slung slab of concrete and, in early spring when I visited, a bone chilling mist hung over the town. Yet this minor Chinese city is home to IFChina original studio, a bold attempt to generate community participation in the arts and oral history in the heart of one of China’s poorest regions.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Xu Tong's Relentless Gaze – Shattered

This is the last of my posts reviewing Chinese work from this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival - apologies that it has taken so long to get all of these up online.

Old Tang and his daughter Tang Caifeng, in Xu Tong's latest documentary Shattered.

Independent Chinese documentaries are not known for their easy, upbeat tone, and few present a more confronting vision of China's lower depths than director Xu Tong. Last October I wrote about his Fortune Teller, a grueling look at the life of a crippled itinerant fortune teller and his deaf, mute, mentally impaired wife as they wandered around China's north. Among that film's cast of characters was a tough brothel owner named Tang Caifeng, who disappeared at the end of the film following her arrest during a crackdown on the sex trade. Fortune Teller's sequel, Shattered, which premiered at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival, catches up with Tang Caifeng a year later, as she returns to her father's home in China's far northeast.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Jia Zhangke's Yulu – Striding confidently forward, but into what?

Folk singer Zhou Yunpeng, one of the personalities profiled in the Jia Zhangke-produced documentary Yulu.

As I sat watching the world premiere of Yulu – produced and partly directed by Jia Zhangke – at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival, I kept thinking of a conversation I'd had in Beijing a few weeks earlier. During a rather heated post-lunch discussion about China's politics and film industry, a friend who is a scriptwriter for Chinese television declared that local filmmakers face two choices: they can remain “independent” and financially insecure or they can do the Communist Party's bidding and enjoy a comfortable future. He didn't believe there was any middle ground.