Asia Society Presents Documentary Film Series:
September 25 – October 29, 2011
Asia Society and Museum, 725 Park Avenue at 70th Street, NYC
Asia Society presents a documentary film series that focuses on contemporary urban life in China with nine films in seven programs (two double bills). The series runs from September 25 to October 29, 2011 at Asia Society, 725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street), New York City.
China is undergoing the fastest economic growth and social transformation known in human history. In urban centers, a booming economy, an unfolding physical landscape and shifting demographics have created new and evolving realities. This documentary film series, focusing on urban life, explores how millions of people navigate this changing China. While some Chinese mourn the loss of the past, others find ways to survive and thrive. Films portray stories of success, struggle, disillusionment and caution.
The nine documentaries in the series were made between 2005 and 2011; eight of them are by Chinese filmmakers. The series sheds light on an unparalleled spectrum of experiences across social and economic classes. It also takes critical looks at the repercussions of China’s unstoppable development.
Film descriptions and program schedule follow. To view trailers and for more information on the series, visit AsiaSociety.org/NewChina.
Tickets: $7 members; $9 students/seniors; $11 nonmembers. Series discount available. VisitAsiaSociety.org/NewChina or call 212-517-ASIA (2742) for more information.
The film series is programmed by La Frances Hui, Film Curator of Asia Society. This series is supported in part by a grant from the Open Society Foundations. Additional support is provided by the Asia Society Center on U.S.-China Relations and New York State Council on the Arts.
PROGRAM SCHEDULE (all films with English subtitles)
Once Upon A Time Proletarian
GUO Xiaolu. 2009. China/Germany/UK. 76min. Digibeta.
Sunday, September 25, 2011, 3:00PM
Thirteen chapters provide poignant snapshots of individuals navigating the modern China. An old peasant calls his country “shit” and yearns for the old days when greed and corruption were less rampant; a young car washer from the countryside calls Beijing huge and unfriendly; a young woman at a hair salon wants to find a rich husband; businessmen sit around and chat about the prices of Russian prostitutes… This meditative film offers an existentialist take on the common experience of disillusionment and disorientation in an evolving social and economic landscape that is far removed from the bygone days of Mao. Filmmaker Guo Xiaolu is also a prolific writer and is the author of A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers and 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth.
“wonderful spontaneity that captures a fleeting moment in China’s history.” – Daniel Trilling, New Statesman
When My Child Is Born
GUO Jing & KE Dingding. 2010. China/UK/Denmark/Japan. 75min. HDCAM.
Friday, September 30, 2011, 6:45PM
Take a rare glimpse into the life of a young academic couple in Beijing. Jun is finishing her Ph.D. in Australia and is a Virginia Woolf specialist. Long, who has just returned from a research study in Germany, is struggling to finish his dissertation on Marx and Kant. An unexpected pregnancy propels the couple to marry quickly and navigate the world of parenthood. An overbearing mother-in-law enters their private world and expects to be in every part of the child rearing. The film offers a candid and intimate portrait of two people caught between freedom and responsibility, career and family, and the new and the old.
“amazingly candid and personal” – Giovanna Fulvi, Toronto International Film Festival
Program 3: (double bill with New Beijing: Reinventing a City)
Please Vote For Me
CHEN Weijun. 2007. China/South Africa/Denmark. 58min. HDCAM.
Sunday, October 2, 2011, 3:00PM
What would democracy look like in China? In Wuhan, a city in central China about the size of London, a third grade class experiments for the first time in selecting a Class Monitor through an election. As if nobody needs to be coached how to run an election campaign, candidates quickly go all-out to solicit votes from their fellow classmates. Backstabbing, bribing, bullying, fancy speeches…all sorts of aggressive tactics are employed to win votes. Tears are shed, feelings are hurt, and friendships are tested. What have these children learned from this experiment? Is democracy destined for exploitation?
“Equal parts charmer and exposé… It’s part “American Idol,” part “Survivor.” – Philip Kennicott, The Washington Post
Sterling Feature Award, Silverdocs Documentary Festival 2007
Program 3: (double bill with Please Vote For Me)
New Beijing: Reinventing a City
Georgia WALLACE-CRABBE. 2010. Australia. 52 mins. HDCAM.
Sunday, October 2, 2011, 4:10PM
Beijing has enthralled the world with major architectural wonders such as the National Stadium (Herzog & de Meuron), National Aquatics Center (PTW Architects), CCTV building (Koolhaas), and National Theater (Andreu). Behind the futuristic face of Beijing are old neighborhoods and hutongs (traditional narrow alleys) that have to be sacrificed for new developments. Heritage activist Zhang Jinqi and other volunteers scramble to document the fleeting old Beijing in a photography project. While Zhang mourns the past, major international architects express their visions for the renewed city. Working with a Chinese crew, Australian filmmaker Georgia Wallace-Crabbe captures the dilemma between development and preservation.
Sydney Film Festival 2010
The Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World
CHEN Weijun. 2008. China/UK/Netherlands/Denmark. 80min. Digibeta.
Saturday, October 8, 2011, 3PM
Situated in Changsha, Hunan is the world’s biggest Chinese restaurant, which seats up to 5,000 diners and employs 1,000 staff. A sprawling complex containing pavilions in the style of traditional Chinese architecture, the restaurant is owned by Qin Linzi, a middle-aged female self-starter who used to earn 30 RMB a month. Documenting the restaurant’s day-to-day operation, the film shows routine slogan-chanting sessions intended to boost morale among the staff. A perceptive portrait of Chinese society, this engaging documentary provides a window into traditional Chinese customs that often revolve around banquets.
“wonderful microcosm of China at large… a lively, accessible survey.” – Peter Debruge, Variety
Program 5: (double bill with Brave Father)
Children of the Chinese Circus
GUO Jing. 2007. China/UK. 58min. Digibeta.
Sunday, October 16, 2011, 3PM
Take a behind-the-scenes look at the training of some of the world’s best acrobats and circus performers. In this Shanghai circus school, a highly disciplined environment, small children endure excruciating and dangerous training regimes. Mostly from poor families, these children are sent to the school by their parents in the hope that the specialty training will secure them a future. While small children sustain agonizing daily practice, the teachers are also under tremendous pressure to produce award-winning stunts. A faculty meeting turns into a Cultural Revolution-styled criticizing session. This film is set to change your perception of acrobatic performances forever.
“Recalling the finest nonfiction achievements of Frederick Wiseman….Fiercely intelligent” – Robert Koehler,Variety
Brave Father (double bill with Children of the Chinese Circus)
LI Junhu. 2007. China. 55min. Digibeta.
Sunday, October 16, 2011, 4:10PM
Han Shengli has been admitted to a university in Xi’an. For his peasant family, this presents an incredible opportunity to move up the economic ladder. To pay for his education, the family sells off most of its valuable belongings. Shengli’s father also comes to Xi’an to find work in construction, while the son quietly collects plastic bottles on campus to make small change. The extremely shy son, who struggles to find a job upon graduation that pays better than his father’s construction work, is a sharp contrast to his old man, who is expressive and resourceful. Reading from a small notebook about his dreams for his son, the father believes all the sacrifices will eventually pay off.
“an incredibly moving affair, with the determination of its characters offset and cruelly undermined by the harsh economic reality of the modern Chinese employment sector.” – James Mudge, Hollywood.com
HUANG Weikai. 2005. China. 93min. DVCAM.
Friday, October 21, 2011, 6:45PM
A 30-year-old rural-born singer brings his guitar to Guangzhou to eke out a living by performing in public spaces. Like many migrant workers who don’t possess residence permits to stay in this southern metropolis, he is constantly dodging the authorities. The camera closely follows the singer’s daily life as he performs in pedestrian underpasses and lives out his tumultuous romantic life, which involves suicide, abortion and a bad break-up. As the film progresses, we find the filmmaker, who also made the much praised Disorder (2009), getting intimately involved with his subject’s precarious existence. Floating offers a humanist portrayal of those who drift on the fringes of society.
Black Pottery Prize and Audience Award, Yunnan Multi Culture Visual Festival, China 2005 Hong Kong International Film Festival 2006 The International Umbria Film Festival, Italy 2007
Beijing Besieged by Waste
WANG Jiuliang. 2011. China. 76min. Digibeta.
Saturday, October 29, 2011, 3PM
With a population of about 20 million, the growing city of Beijing produces 30,000 tons of waste each day. Photographer/filmmaker Wang Jiuliang traveled around the city and visited 460 legal and illegal landfills from 2008 to 2010 to document the collection of garbage and excrement, the environmental calamity and the life cycles around these landfills, which include scavengers building a precarious livelihood, green spaces forming on top of waste, and livestock being fed trash. An informative and alarming portrait of urban ecology, the film has earned keen Chinese media coverage and the attention of government officials.
Abu Dhabi Film Festival 2011
About the filmmakers:
CHEN Weijun is a documentary director and producer living in Wuhan, China. After graduating from the journalism program at Sichuan University in 1992 he joined the documentary production department of the Wuhan regional TV station. His first film, My Life Is My Philosophy, was nominated for best documentary of the year by the Chinese National Association of Broadcasters. In 2003 he completed To Live Is Better Than To Die, which was awarded a Peabody and Grierson award, as well as the Rudolf Vrba Award from the One World Festival.
GUO Jing was born in 1976 in Shanghai, China. She graduated from the journalism department of Fudan University and has worked as a director and editor ever since. KE Dingding was born in 1965 in Shanghai, China. He graduated from the Institute of Chengdu Radio Engineering and has been working as a photographer and director since 1995. Other films by the duo include First Period (2009), All About My Friends (2010), andFruitful Summer (2006).
GUO Xiaolu (b. 1973) was born in a fishing village in south China. She is a novelist and filmmaker who uses film and literary language to explore themes of alienation, memory, personal journeys, daily tragedies and develops her own vision of China’s past and its future in a global environment. She studied film at the Beijing Film Academy and published six books in China before moving to London in 2002. The English translation ofVillage of Stone was shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her first novel written in English, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers was shortlisted for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction, and 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth, published in 2008, was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize. Xiaolu’s film career continues to flourish; her feature, She, A Chinese, premiered at the 2009 Locarno International Film Festival and took the highest prize, the Golden Leopard. Her documentary We Went to Wonderland (2008) was selected for the New Directors/New Films Festival in New York in 2008.
HUANG Weikai was born in 1972 in Guangdong Province, China. He studied Chinese painting for 15 years and graduated from the Chinese Art Department of the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts. He used to work as a cinema promoter, art editor, graphic designer, movie script writer and cameraman. Since 2002, he has been directing independent films. His 2009 found-footage documentary, Disorder, has been acclaimed as “One of the most mesmerizing films I’ve seen in ages” by Hua Hsu in The Atlantic for its unflinching look at the absurdity and anarchy of urban life in contemporary China.
LI Junhu (b. 1977) graduated from Xi’an Arts Academy with a degree in photography. He currently works for the International Division of Shaanxi TV Station. His TV documentaries have won many awards both in China and internationally. His previous works include Cyber Love (2004), Accompanied Study (2005), Born in 1977(2006), City (2006), etc.
Georgia WALLACE-CRABBE, a native of Australia, graduated from the Swinburne (VCA) Film and Television School in 1984. She has produced award winning documentaries, and has directed, line produced and production managed a number of dramas, television series, documentaries and short films. She has worked as Exhibitions Officer & Cinema Programmer at The State Film Centre of Victoria and for the Melbourne Film Festival as Programmer & Coordinator of the Youth Film Festival and the Short Film Competition. Georgia was the Founding Director of the WOW film Festival and President of Women in Film and Television NSW (95-98). Georgia has produced and line-produced numerous documentaries, short films and long form drama. She was a producer of Jabe Babe: A Heightened Life (2005), the winner of an AFI Award in 2005 for Best Documentary and an IF Award for Best Direction in a Documentary. She was coproducer of the French-Australian coproduction Shark Tracker (2002) MVC (France 5 & France 3).
WANG Jiuliang was born in Anqiu, Shandong Province in 1976. He is a graduate of the Cinema-Television School at Communication University of China. Wang is also a photographer. Beijing Besieged by Wasteaccompanies a larger photography project.
About Asia Society
Founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller 3rd, Asia Society is a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational institution. Through exhibitions and public programs, Asia Society provides a forum for the issues and viewpoints reflected in both traditional and contemporary Asian art, and in Asia today. Asia Society is located at 725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street), New York City. www.AsiaSociety.org