Forays into Film: Independent Chinese Documentary
By Cindy M. Carter, published
Some folks document contemporary Chinese society with words. Others do it with photography, visual art, music or film. At Paper Republic, we tend to focus on the wordsmiths: the novelists, essayists and poets who form the landscape of Chinese literature, and help to shape our perceptions of modern China.
But some of the most daring work in China today is being done by independent documentarians, guerrilla filmmakers armed with newly-affordable digital cameras, laptop computers and editing software. They tend to work alone, on shoestring budgets, outside the state-owned studio distribution system and - perhaps more importantly - beyond the reach of censors. And they're not the cast-offs, people who couldn't cut it the world of mainstream film: many are graduates of the Beijing Film Academy, alumni of China Central Television (CCTV), accomplished directors or cinematographers who left lucrative commercial careers to make the kind of films they always wanted to.
One of these days, we'll have a section on Paper Republic about Chinese indie film. Maybe we'll call it Digital Republic. In the meantime, my little bio of film work includes synopses of 15 outstanding documentaries and feature films from the last 8 years, with links to directors (photos/bios/filmographies), film festival awards and reviews in industry publications. Some of the highlights:
Wang Bing - continuing "his run as one of the world's supreme doc filmmakers with Fengming: A Chinese Memoir." (Variety)
Zhao Liang - whose Crime and Punishment "cements China's position as a doc powerhouse" (Variety), says that sometimes he feels "like I’m stealing from the people I shoot. It’s their life that has given me the inspiration to create, and that’s why I feel guilty."
Li Ying - who was forced to relocate his production company offices in Tokyo after receiving right-wing death threats related to his film Yasukuni, a controversial documentary about Japan's Yasukuni Shrine. Although the film was expected to sail through the Chinese censorship process, it has yet to be approved for theatrical release in China.
Cui Zi'en - author, director and university professor widely hailed as one of the pioneers of Chinese queer cinema.
And those are just the filmmakers I've translated, the ones who happened to make the list. Here are some other outstanding documentary directors, not to be missed:
Du Haibin: Along the Railway, Beautiful Men, Umbrella Wu Wenguang: Bumming in Beijing, Dances with Migrant Workers, Fuck Cinema! Yang Lina: Old Men, Home Video, The Love of Mr. An Ni Zhen: Graduation, Postscript Duan Jinchuan: The Square, No.16 Barkhor Street Zhang Yuan: The Square, Demolition and Relocation, Crazy English Yu Guangyi: The Last Lumberjacks, Survival Song Luo Jian/Jiang Ping: Tale of Zhou