Tour Organizer, Film Producer and Distributor Karin Chien In Person
presented by San Francisco Cinematheque and Cinema on the Edge in association with the Center for Asian American Media and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Please note that YBCA will present an additional related screening on Thursday, November 19; full details here.
With the advent of DV technology, grassroots methods of independent filmmaking in China have given rise to innovative new films and spawned an active independent filmmaking culture. Distancing themselves from prevailing ideological currents, critiquing the embrace of global capitalism, and, through the frequent use of on-screen interview and oral history, giving voice to citizens and witnesses omitted from official national narratives of growth and prosperity, these films seldom receive approval by censors and therefore cannot be screened in commercial cinemas in China. Instead, they rely on informal networks of galleries, cafes, universities and festivals which support this active and vital independent artistic activity despite the ebb and flow of government pressure and intervention. In support of the work of independent filmmakers worldwide, San Francisco Cinematheque and Cinema on the Edge (Karin Chien, Shelly Kraicer and J.P. Sniadecki), in association with the Center for Asian American Media and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, is proud to present this series of programs of recent independent film from China. These programs highlight the work of Chinese independent filmmakers, producers and distribution networks who are dedicated to supporting formally and ideologically challenging work created outside the official Chinese film industry.
These films are vital for us to know about in the West, not just for their compelling content—there are few more important stories to tell than China’s transition to world political and cultural powerhouse—but because the filmmakers are inventing new ways of mobilizing, adapting, and innovating film language under pressure of the incredibly rapid and fundamental changes Chinese society is undergoing. Ai Weiwei’s intensely engaged hyper-journalistic camera (Ping’An Yueqing); Sniadecki, Huang and Xu’s genre-defying performance/documentary art hybrid work (Yumen); and Chen Zhou and Zhi Jun’s visually playful experimentalism (I Am Not Not Not Chen Zhou and Dismantling Clematis): all interrogate how cinema art can and should stand against the real, all stretch cinema art under the pressure of seemingly un-representable new Chinese realities, and all invent images and sounds that try to keep up with a present that is changing before our eyes, one that is shaping our own future at the same time. (Shelly Kraicer, co-organizer of China Now: Independent Visions & Steve Polta, San Francisco Cinematheque)
In support of these heroic grassroots film creators, Cinematheque is thrilled to present a concentrated one-day, three-program series celebrating this important and innovative cinema.
Ping’An Yueqing (2011) by Ai Weiwei: The documentaries produced by Ai Weiwei’s studio are closer to investigative journalism than to conceptual art. This film in particular starts from a specific case, the mysterious death by “road accident” of a village leader, Qian Yunhui from Zhejiang province, an activist who stood up for his fellow villagers when their land was confiscated without compensation by the local government. Qian’s death in 2010 quickly became a cause célèbre online in China. Ai and his team take up the challenge of determining what really happened, and dig deep into the land dispute lying behind what looks like the convenient murder of a rights advocate. The story unfolds like a thriller, but an ultra-realist one, with terrified villagers, government media spectacles, conflicting stories and a mysteriously disappearing surveillance video.
Poet and Singer (Jingangjing) (2012) by Bi Gan: A visually splendid poem that provocatively but elegantly juxtaposes a poet, a singer, a river, a pair of murderers and the Diamond Sutra.
I Am Not Not Not Chen Zhou (2013) by Chen Zhou: The color yellow, as well as artist Chen Zhou and his alter ego(s), star in this droll, playfully conceptual tour de force.
Dismantling Clematis #16 (2014) by Zhi Jun: After a fire, scarred bonsai trees are meticulously freed of their supporting wires by medical professionals.
Yumen (2013) by Huang Xiang, Xu Ruotao, and JP Sniadecki: …a stunningly beautiful Chinese experimental-fiction-documentary that dazzlingly combines ghost stories and “ruin porn” to form a celluloid psycho-collage. Shot on 16mm film (extremely rare in China), the film is set in the largely abandoned oil drilling town of Yumen—a place with an ancient, poetic history in China’s western Gansu province—and takes us through trashed, desolate urban spaces abandoned by Chinese socialism. But the filmmakers bring these places alive with their cast of ghosts, artists, vagabond dancers and singers. It’s a film chock full of fascinating things: massive oil pumps and sun-blasted vistas; nude performance art and impromptu flamenco; fuzzy bunny rabbits and snarling canines; groovy '70s Taiwan pop and contemporary Korean girl bands; socialist nostalgia; and postmodern pastiche.
Yumen is preceded by:
Perfect Conjugal Bliss (2014) by Zhong Su: A gorgeous 3D animation unscrolling through Chinese history, from grey urban collapse to ultra-coloured consumer dystopia.
How (2013) by Zhang Yipin: Traditional pen-and-ink drawings, animating a fuzzy-haired ruddy-cheeked girl’s imaginative world of terror and freedom.
Double Act (2013) by Ding Shiwei: Black-and-white industrial surreal: bodies float between familiar bureaucratic monuments above, and sunflowers beneath the earth.
image above: Huang Xiang, Xu Ruotao, and JP Sniadecki: Yumen (2013)