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film - 25 10 2003 - 23:13 - katatonik

China, film, now

Instead of a Chinese documentary which couldn’t be shown due to some legal dispute, the cinema attended by yours truly this afternoon screened the documentary “My Camera Doesn’t Lie”, by Solveig Klaßen and Katharina Schneider-Roos. 92 Minutes, digital video, Chinese with English subtitles. (From the linked site, one can download an informative brochure on the film, as pdf.)

“My Camera Doesn’t Lie” is a rough’n ready documentary on current filmmaking in China, well, actually in Beijing. Interviews with filmmakers, a critic, a professor, and lots of clips from films, most of which I’d love to see. Here’s a list with all the names of people and films featured. Extracted:

Most of the time in this film, you see and hear people talk, tell, narrate, which can get a bit tiring if (like me) you don’t understand Chinese and just get to listen to staccato-ish singsang, while you’re reading subtitles and watching faces doing their staccato. The stories are intriguing, though, and worth one’s patience. Filmmakers, more or less young, living under extremely unstable conditions, with no “working group” to be associated with (apparently a requirement for an honourable social existence in Chinese society), no insurance, nothing.

They have two choices: to make films outside any legal framework, freely, but under precarious economic conditions and with the constant threat of some neighbourhood committee watchdog bringing the police upon them, or to submit their films to censorship. In terms of distribution, this boils down to a simple choice: show your films in China (when censured) or don’t get anyone in China to see them.

The neighbourhood committee, by the way, a constant in all (the few) recent Chinese films I’ve seen: constant control, always looming. In “my camera doesn’t lie”, a director walks about his neighbourhood with the (Western) filmmakers, and while they talk, two elderly people come up to them and sternly inquire for credentials, for approval by the neighbourhood committee, insisting, insisting, insisting, until the camera moves away from the people and fixes its gaze on a broken window frame.

The bizarre result of this entire situation is that most of the films listed above haven’t been seen inside the PRC at all (or perhaps only by a handful of friends of the directors), and abroad mostly in the context of film festivals. This is all the more bizarre as these are very rough films with gripping tales of city life, quick and chunky visual material to be digested by those you can see on it. At least such is my impression from the clips shown in the documentary itself, as I haven’t seen any of these films in full.

“My camera doesn’t lie” also deals with gay filmmaking in Beijing, and has been advertised as the first documentary on gay filmmaking in China, even though this is only one form of filmmaking that features in it.

I forgot the name of the director who most extensively talks about gay life and films in China over the past few years (it wasn’t Zhang Yuan), but he is shown while shooting a fictional documentary about “money boys” in Beijing. The documentary also contains a clip where he is speaker on a radio station devoted entirely to public toilets (the main meeting place for gays a few years ago). He’s a very eloquent personality. Most notable his way of looking at social changes in China: it would be wrong to say that society has opened. Society doesn’t open, one has to open windows for it. In some countries, the director says, you open windows easily with just so much as a slight push. In China, however, you have to push very hard, and for a long time, for windows to open just a tiny little bit. And this, he concludes, has happened over the past years, as far as gay life is concerned. At least in Beijing.

On documentary in China, see also: Bérénice Reynaud, “Dancing with Myself, Drifting with My Camera: The Emotional Vagabonds of ChinaÂ’s New Documentary” (belatedly noticed at a usual sucpect’s site)

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