Curation: Ashish Rajadhyaksha
Grateful acknowledgment: Ying E Chi, Hong Kong; Hong Kong Arts Development Council; Yunfest, Kunming; China Independent Film Archive, Beijing
Advisory Support: Zhang Xianmin (Beijing Film Academy), Yi Sicheng (Director, Yunfest, Kunming), Vincent Chui (Ying-e-Chi, Hong Kong), Chang Chaowei (CNEX, Beijing)
Viewing Chinese independent cinema is very much like viewing the proverbial elephant – see it from within, i.e. from Beijing or Shanghai, and you can, it seems, still speak of an integrated imagination of China. You can interrogate it in its heartland, challenge it (as happened on June 4, 1989), but it is still integrated. See the same elephant from Hong Kong, or even Kunming, and it looks anything butunified. There is some similarity to the two views we get of another giant, from Delhi and from Kerala.
When West Heavensdid the You Don’t Belong festival in 2011-12, in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Kunming, and then in Hong Kong and Hsinchu, several Indian filmmakers and film theorists had the privilege of encountering both views of China. Despite their seeming similarity, the differenceswere at one level obvious: the fact was that these two behemoths did not compare. This was not only for the obvious reasons: it was also because we were both used to comparing our condition with the West, and not with each other.
Hence, to keep the exploration going,this ‘return’ series. What happens, I want to ask with these films, if Indian audiences were to look – actually look – at Chinese documentary cinema from the 2000s? Would radically new poles of comparison arise, the express gift of the new independent documentary?
Audiences of Chinese film have already encountered the massive reactions to the epic sagas of the Fifth Generation filmmakers: and a cinema (following Zhang Yuan’s Beijing Bastards, 1993) that was deliberately personal, immediate, profoundly local. We saw a cinema that was not about State and Protagonist, but posited really a very different kind of subject: one neither ‘inside’ nor ‘outside’ within the conventional meanings of the term. Instead of any such static presentation of a viewpoint, it was really a mobile cinema in the act of turningits gaze.
Documentary opens up a new and largely unknown aspect of such an alienated personal. To understand this personal I shall adapt a remark that filmmaker and Raqs Media Collective member Monica Narulaonce made of documentary, that if your camera doesn’t belong to the government, ‘the moment you are switching it on in a public space you are breaking the law’. Narulaisof course referring to aprofound documentary truth: that when filmmakers push the limits of their apparatus,and film what they are not ‘supposed’ to, however defined, they are breaking laws.What happens, I ask with these films,if you take the same illegality further, to one where the law-breaking process launched by the position of the camera, begins talking to another kind of equally illegal subject,similarly located as the camera itself is in relation to the State?You now find yourself in a curious space. Here the bodily subjectcoalesces into the filmmaker: and the two further fuse into the apparatus.
What we get is a new corporeality of documentary film, a strange new realm of performance. I shall name it a camera-enabled bodily self: potentially, in China at least (and perhaps in most Asian modernities)a new kind of public subject. Despite his/her diverse location – the films are from Shaanxi and Beijing, Guangzhou and Kunming and, above all, from Hong Kong – what appears common is the way the subject remains an idea of a body politic, the state turned inside-out.
This is a public subject-in-formation as much examined as produced by the filmmakers in specificlocations, that both Chinese and Hong Kong filmmakers appear to privilege: home, school, bedroom, public arena. Their moral armature is often not yet a given: it is like a crucible in which filmmakers conduct (as Mahatma Gandhi might have called it, in a very different context) their own ‘experiments with truth’.
In this presentation I would like to name this as Make-Belong. The reference is partly to make-believe, but more important to me, it takes further the condition I had sought to name in the earlier Indian event, titled ‘You Don’t Belong’.
Extending that comparison, I go further. I propose a set of keywords, each of which has a specific space linked to it. Make Public constitutes it politically, but with the hesitation of a blind man feeling his way around, in Tammy Cheung’s Rice Distribution (2002). Soon enough the space would turn more articulately political within a new meaning of the term in her July (2004). MakeBelong, the overall title, is also most directly evidenced in two films in which the filmmakers are personally linked to the political camera-enabled subject: Yan Junjie’sSnippets(2005) and Quentin Lee’s0506hk (2007).
My third category appears across the spectrum of Chinese and Hong Kong documentary: the education system, the school, theuniversity. Titled Educate, this features Cheung’s Speaking Up–2 (2007) set in a primary school, and Zhao Xun’sTwo Seasons (2008). The fourth, MakeOwn, chronicles situations where filmmakersreturn, often forcibly, to history to forge a new space of the personal. This section shows two films, Anson Mak’sOne Way Street on a Turntable (2007) and Wu Haohao’sKun1Action (2008).
And finally:Transgress, where we screen Madame (QiuJiongjiong, 2010), the luscious black-and-white film of the cross-dresser Fan Qihui, a fashion designer and tailor by day and Madame Bilan de Linphel by night.Randomize, where we screen Wei Xiaobo’s home movie of life with his girlfriend, The Days (2010). And Execute, in which we screen dancer/performance artist Li Ning’s autobiographical Tape (2010).
Schedule: 7 Feb, 2015: Make Public Rice Distribution (Tammy Cheung, 2002, 35 min) July (Tammy Cheung, 2004, 70 min) 《平安米》（张虹，2002，35分钟） 《七月》（张虹，2004，70分钟） 8 Feb, 2015: Make Belong Snippets(Yan Junjie, 2005, 84 minutes) 0506hk (Quentin Lee, 2007, 63 minutes) 9 Feb, 2015: Educate Speaking Up – 2 (Tammy Cheung, 2007, 32 min) Two Seasons (Zhao Xun, 2008, 142 minutes) 10 Feb, 2015: Make Own One Way Street on a Turntable (Anson Mak, 2007, 74 minutes) Kun1Action (Wu Haohao, 2008, 79 minutes) 11 Feb, 2015: Transgress Madame (QiuJiongjiong, 2010, 120 minutes) 12 Feb, 2015: Randomize The Days (Wei Xiaobo, 2010, 88 min) 13 Feb, 2015: Execute Tape (Li Ning, 2011, 120 minutes) The Films: Rice Distribution 2002, colour, 35 minutes Director: Tammy Cheung Camera: Augustine Lam One of the earliest films by pre-eminent Hong Kong documentarist Tammy Cheung. During the Ghost festival, Taoist organizations give away rice to the elderly and the poor. Nearly eight thousand of Hong Kong’s elderly, its indigent and its poverty-stricken, stand in queues as they are policed and given rice. They quarrel, try to jump queue, are held back and eventually manage to get what they came for. Cheung’s relentless observational camera converts this episode into a crucible examining the very status of Hong Kong’s public sphere – examining afresh concepts such as benevolence, welfare and state discipline. Rice having been distributed, everyone returns home leaving a barren wasteland of garbage. The film anticipates Cheung’s own later documentaries about the condition of the city’s elderly – e.g. her landmark Moving (2003) about how people living in an old public housing project are rehoused – as it does her interest in the space of the ‘public’ (see July in this package). __________ July 2004, colour, 70 minutes Director: Tammy Cheung Camera: Augustine Lam, Claudia Choi, Irene Kong, Benny Lon, TseKa Ho, ClaraYeung In Hong Kong, the opening credit of the film tells us, a legislation is supposed to be passed in July 2003 that would alter the Basic Law, the document that outlined the official People’s Republic of China’s commitments to Hong Kong following the 1997 hand-over. The government is not coming clean about what changes it plans to make to what many consider an article of faith. Meanwhile, there is rising unemployment, and the SARS epidemic has hit. A public rally is called on July 1, joined by half a million people, mostly wearing black. The rally ‘competes’ with a rival carnival organized by pro-Beijing groups nearby. By July 9, the proposed legislation is called off and the rally becomes a celebration. One of the earliest of the several major political rallies that have taken place in Hong Kong – the most recent was earlier in 2014 – the July 03 event is elaborately covered by Cheung’s low-key camerawork that observes everything, however minute. The spaces are similar to those we saw in Rice Distribution: infinite lines of ordinary people, patrolled by the police, all wanting something. This is not, or not overtly, a political film, in the sense that it does not present the rallying common folk in any heroic light. Rather, it is a kind of ethnography of the political space as this space emerges in Hong Kong, and as diverse people – from political parties to the media – explore the properties of a strange new public domain. It is a domain in which new possibilities arise, along with new barricades. __________ Snippets 2005, Colour, 84 minutes Direction, Camera, Editing: Yang Jun jie This is an autobiographical documentary and a landmark film chronicling a post-1989 era and a new student generation. The student/documentarist/self-satirist starts by quoting two of his teachers, one saying that a documentary ‘does not have to be painful’ and another that documentary should be used to ‘heal your own wounds’. The problem, says the filmmaker, is that he is making a film on himself, and not on other people, for if he did – if he could ‘operate’ on someone else, such as an ethnic group (making films on such groups is a dominant strand of Chinese documentary), then he might have had the possibility of hiding behind his camera as he plays an all-knowing, all-loving god, or scholar. One filmmaker-protagonist is instead a student at a university, part of a band, experimenting with life as he does with his camera. His film consists of ‘snippets’, bits of fleeting film captured by the camera, signaling (if it signals anything at all) the basic fact that everything significant that happens off-screen. ‘Even though there is a pile of footage’, he says at the end – as he and his friends prance nakedly at the edge of a pond –such moments are ‘just like all the flashes and snippets that happen in the world that you can and cannot see’. ‘If you could truly film everything in one entire life, that life would lose all meaning’. In many ways the film accompanies several of the post-political work of sixth-generation fiction filmmakers (e.g. Lou Ye’sSummer Palace, 2006), set in University life and among students who appear incapable of a language of politics, but capable of something that can only be seen as profoundly political: if, that is, politics can be interpreted as experimenting with cinematic representations of a bodily selfhood. __________ 0506hk 2007, Colour, 63 minutes Direction/Camera: Quentin Lee Featuring: Kam Kwok Keung, Norm Yip, Peter Chan, Teddy Chen, Tammy Cheung, Raman Hui, Esther Yeung, Vincent Chui, Amos Why Filmmaker Lee describes himself as a ‘child of 1997’. His family moved from Hong Kong to Canada a decade before the hand-over, apprehensive as to what might now happen. He returns a decade after to see what Hong Kong’s like, as he tries to work out for himself what is the best place for him to be. In the process of working it out, he interviews several Hong Kong-based filmmakers and others. This was Lee’s first film, a documentary – he would soon move, more celebratedly, to fiction (e.g. Ethan Mao, 2004). In it, he also ends up making for himself a cultural claim: ‘at the heart of the documentary is culture’. In making this film, he says, he also tries to respond to the advice that his professor at Yale, Sarah Suleri Goodyear, had given him: that at some point ‘the choice has to be made… on whether or not I represent my own culture’. __________ One Way Street on a Turntable 2007, black-and-white/colour, 74 minutes Direction/Screenplay/Co-camera: Anson Mak Co-camera: Wong Ping Hung, Derek Hui Cast: Yvonne Leung Intended as an interactive documentary, this non-linear film is made up of several autonomous ‘chapters’, which can be seen in any sequence. Combining footage derived from diverse documentary film sources, it explores the myth of Hong Kong – as a refugee city-turned-financial dynamo – through juxtaposing found documentary with the stories of the filmmaker herself and another woman, Yvonne Leung, who migrated from the mainland. Some of the best parts of the film are ones in which the filmmaker inserts within footage taken British propaganda films, plummy voiceover accents and all, spaces where her school was, or the place where she lived. __________ Speaking Up–2 2007, Colour, 32 minutes Direction: Tammy Cheung Camera: Augustine Lam, Claudia Choi Follow-up to the filmmaker’s earlier Speaking Up (2005). Whereas in the earlier film, Cheung spoke to nearly sixty people, here she focuses on fewer subjects. These are now school children, and they are from the Mainland, from school at Jiangxu, near Shanghai. The children are asked to speak, direct to camera, on diverse topics including what they like and don’t like, how they handle authority, and whether they have ever heard of Chairman Mao. With disarming frankness the children reveal astonishing prejudices around gender and race. Parallelly, we also get the many rituals in which the school makes them participate: in flag hoisting, in marches, in speech making. It culminates in a massive parade and children’s performance that becomes a spectacular celebration of the Communist Party. __________ Kun1Action! 2008, colour, 79 Direction/Script/Photography design/Editing: Wu Haohao Camera: Wu Haohao, Zhao Wang, Bi Cong, Zhu Jiang, HanGuanjun Actors: Wu Haohao, Zhao Yong, Bingbing, Flu, Yi Hui, Wang Zhangxu, Skeleton, Bitch, ShenXianrui, Yan Cheng Wu Haohao’s debut film and the first of the very well known series (followed by Kun 2: Criticizing Shaoguang, 2009) and Kun 3: I Love Liang Kun, 2011), this film is an autobiographical parody of the filmmaker trying to make meaning in post-socialist China. Living and growing up in University and in film school, learning about and teaching Jean-Luc Godard amid a sea of indifference, Wu tries to explore what it means to capture ‘reality’, such as it might be, and for anyone who cares. It begins with the filmmaker humming snatches of the Internationale after which he hums Yellow Submarine with the Beatles. To the sound of California Dreamin’ (The Mamas and the Papas) he walks down the student hostel corridors, as a part of the film (‘Communism’s Ideal’) wonders idly about the political consequences of bringing California into China. The filmmaker’s fascination with Communist history in a condition otherwise suffused with both indifference and meaningless personal autobiography – such as the girl Flu telling him of her first sexual experience – sees him rediscover Mao Zedong in a night club as a rock icon, as a heavy metal band pays homage to Mao, and students sing socialist anthems intercut with black-and-white propaganda footage of original versions of the same songs. In the end, Wugoes through graveyards spray-painting the five-pointed red star. The filmmaker later made the very much more controversial Kun 13: Criticizing Ai Weiwei and Wu Haohao (2010), which shows him visiting Ai Weiwei’s studio on a winter morning in 2010 and the strained conversation that ensues. That film is in one unedited take, and depicts how Wu, quickly becoming uneasy and dissatisfied with Ai’s attitudes and answers to his questions, begins to respond in his own passive-aggressive manner. Their talk awkwardly covers a variety of topics ranging from their opinions on modern Chinese society, the Chinese government and the Communist Party, as well as art, film and more. Ai’s annoyance at Wu builds, and the mood sours as the two become increasingly critical of each other. __________ Two Seasons 2008, colour, 142 minutes Direction/Camera: Zhao Xun Among the best known of the series of documentaries dealing a key topic of the Chinese cinema: its education system. To many filmmakers, it appears that looking at the system– primary school (see Tammy Cheung’s Speaking Up-2), but also both kindergarten on the one extreme (see Zhang Yuan’s extraordinary fiction film, Little Red Flowers, 2006) to University on the other (Wang Yang’s China Gate, 2011) – becomes a crucial means by which to understand the state system in China. Zhao graduated in documentary from the Beijing Film Academy in 2008. Before that, she actually taught in a junior high in Wuhan and draws upon that experience to make a film that offers something of an astonishing 360-degree look at the actual experience of secondary or ‘middle’ school. To the filmmaker, China’s ‘education system is only a tiny part of this documentary’, and it was one that allowed an exploration of a ‘web of human relations and (the) socialization process’. Made over the course of an academic year, it is the story of the problems plaguing the school and the ways teachers, parents and children cope. __________ Madame 2010, black-and-white, 120 minutes Direction/Camera/Editing: QiuJiongjiong Character: Fan Qiuhi "What beautiful make-up! Time to wipe it off." – Madame Bilan de Linphel Madame is a stunningly shot black-and-white film about a cross-dresser and nightclub performer. By day Fan Qihui is a fashion designer and tailor, but in the evening he becomes Madame Bilan de Linphel, singing melancholy songs in a bar. She wears a long dress‘as multi-coloured as a painting’, eight-inch heels and a wig shaped like a white rose, and sings the equivalent of Chinese blues. The tear in her eye – like Marilyn Monroe, the tear should be three inches in length, sliding from the corner of the screen and should ‘drop right into the centre of your heart’ – merges with the mascara as the camera lovingly hangs on to every pore. The songs are mainly those of famous 1940s movie star and singer Bai Guang, known for her Mandopop (Mandarin popular) music. The women in the audience are disdainful. In the noisy environment, ‘the stage is all hers – the small stage belongs to the magnificent, sarcastic, shy, poisonous, snobbish, skittish, unfortunate, charming, aggressive and stubborn Madame Bilan’. On October 12, 2010, Fan committed suicide in his flat, shortly after good friend Qiu Jiongjiong completed this documentary over two years. Qiu Jiongjiiong is a well known painter and filmmaker. __________ The Days 2010, Colour, 89 minutes Direction/Co-cinematography: Wei Xiaobo Co-cinematography: Xie Fang The Days is a domestic autobiographical documentary of a guy and his girl. The two decide to live together after graduation. He has a temper, and she keeps quitting her job. The director places the camera in a corner to record the string of eating, sleeping, sex, arguments, boredom and daydreaming that makes up daily life. The director says that he speaks for ‘countless faceless ordinary people’ who ‘do not have any stories to tell; their lives are featureless and far from unique; they are not victims of any catastrophic disaster’. Perhaps, he says, ‘one day, the demons will be expelled’. ‘I hope people will then see the resemblance of the lives of the two insignificant people of this film with those of the faceless masses throughout the ages’. The filmmaker Wei Xiaobo is an author of novels, poetry and film reviews, has worked in journalism, advertising and education, and has made five short documentaries before this one. __________ Tape (2011, Colour, 120 minutes) Direction/Screenplay: Li Ning The dancer and performance artist Li Ning’s firstdocumentary. The film begins with a series of performances, including his well known one of diving naked inside a frozen river. Moving into Li’s daily life, the film intercuts the bizarre performances by his enthusiastic guerrilla dance troupe, which performs on the streets – extensively using one of his favourite media, glue – with his own autobiography, with his wife, his son and his mother. In the end, all of everyday life becomes for him a performance, culminating in him joining a job queue, filling in his unemployment card, and feeling curiously ‘at home’. This is a crucial film because it also makes a direct link between new Chinese performance art and its new documentary. Earlier, the link with Sixth Generation film had appeared earlier in Wang Xiaoshuai’s famous Frozen (1997), which references the true-life story of performance artistQi Lei who decides to make his own death his final work. Told here as an autobiography, ‘performed’ by its protagonist, Tape links up with other films in this series which also show their makes on screen – Snippets, Kun 1 Action! – to present the idea of a bodily self upon which immense political phenomena, of State, ideology and world-dominance, are played out.