Thursday, June 28, 2012

“Climaxes Can’t be Judged by the Critics”: the Debate on Documentary Ethics in China

Logo for the 8th China Independent Film Festival, where controversy erupted over the issue of ethics in Chinese documentary.

Ethics in documentary making is always a loaded subject that can raise the heckles of directors, viewers and subjects alike. Documentary makers not only have to negotiate their often fraught relationships with their subjects, but also have to consider the fact that their camera-mediated interactions are going to be put on public display on cinema and TV screens across the planet. Given the explosion in independent Chinese documentary making over the past ten to fifteen years, and the fact that many of these films involve a discomforting degree of observational intimacy, it should come as no surprise that debates centred on ethics have recently come to the fore in China.

The fault lines of the debate were thrown into sharp relief at a forum at the 8th China Independent Film Festival in Nanjing late last year (28 October-1 November 2011), when a heated discussion by academics on ethical issues was denounced the following day by a group of filmmakers in a series of “big character posters” (dazibao). Public posters proclaiming social or political messages have a long tradition in China, though they are particularly associated with the early Cultural Revolution years, when highly bombastic competing dazhibao from various Red Guard factions were plastered on every wall in cities across the country. Shelly Kraicer reported on the events in Nanjing for CinemaScope soon after they occurred, while the Harvard-based Chinese scholar Ying Qian recently penned a more detailed account and discussion of the issues thrown up by the forum in China Heritage Quarterly.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cycles of Familial Abuse – Ji Dan’s "When the Bough Breaks"

The sisters survey Beijing's frozen winter landscape in Ji Dan's harrowing documentary When the Bough Breaks, screened recently at the "Seeing China" workshop at the University of Technology, Sydney.

If you’ve ever found yourself trapped with someone else’s family as they experience a major emotional meltdown, you’ll have some idea what it’s like to view Ji Dan’s documentary When the Bough Breaks (2011). “It’s just like guerrilla warfare,” comments one family member early in the film, although it’s unclear whether he is referring to life inside his family or the general conditions of life for those living in the cracks of Beijing’s fractured social landscape.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Newsbites: Sheffield, Censorship, Jia Zhangke’s Beijing Cinema, and Salacious Gossip

Me, sorry? Never! The new documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry has been getting the Chinese embassy in London hot under the collar.

It’s been a very long time between posts here at Screening China. Fear not, the blog is still alive – I’ve just been a little swamped by thesis and article writing, various curating duties and five weeks in China. There’s been a lot going on in Chinese film, so here’s a quick round up of news over the past month or two (apologies for the fact that some of this is quite old!)

Chinese Delegation Pulls Out of Sheffield Doc/Fest

Earlier this week the Chinese diplomatic service launched another offensive in its campaign to confirm the image of the Chinese government as repressive, censorial and generally uptight by demanding that Sheffield Doc/Fest, one of the world’s best known documentary festivals, drop Alison Klayman’s Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry from its program. RealScreen reports: