Chinese Avant-garde Shills for Prada: Is This the Future of Indie Filmmaking?
While we get the bleak overtone, we see the perfectly attractive models and we’re amused by its accompanying surrealist art references [e.g. Magritte’s Golconda], we wonder – if a film looks better when it is paused (flawlessly-executed visuals in almost every frame), is something seriously wrong? Perhaps models just are not actors and it’s best if they stuck with their actual jobs: Modeling.
Is this the future of independent filmmaking in China?
Independent filmmakers in China make their films on shoestring budgets, scraping together whatever funds they have in pursuit of a story they feel absolutely compelled to tell. Meanwhile, some would say that the Chinese avant garde art and video scene – not to be confused with the indie filmmaking scene – is pretty much a playground for commercial interests. It’s a subculture flush with the money and attention of high culture trendseekers and investment speculators, with artists commanding large sums for elaborate gallery installations or videos running hours on end.
One can look to Wang Bing as the symbolic fork in the road. His West of the Tracks is a landmark work that has influenced a wave of grungy, street-level observational documentary, one of the reigning hallmarks of contemporary do-it-yourself Chinese indie filmmaking. But this inspirational landmark of the indie doc scene was funded in no small part from European arts and culture sources, and it’s a work whose massive length (9 hours) forebears a conventional theatrical screening, making more sense as a series of gallery installations playing on an endless loop. Indeed, Wang’s subsequent work, like his 14 hour Crude Oil, seems increasingly tailored to a gallery setting, which is unsurprising as the funding for his work comes largely from the art world.
If the art scene is where the money is, I don’t begrudge Wang Bing or other independent filmmakers for following the money, if that’s what will sustain their work. One of the most celebrated films in our catalog is Ou Ning and Cao Fei’s San Yuan Li, a film commissioned by the Venice Biennale and an example of how funding from the art world makes amazing, artistically innovative work possible. But looking at Yang Fudong’s video, you have to wonder how commercial interests will influence our understanding of what’s avant garde or independent: