In May and June 2010, IDFA is traveling though China, where the festival is presenting several documentary programs in Beijing and Shanghai. The journey started on Thursday 13 May at the World Expo 2010 in the Dutch Culture Centre in Shanghai. To mark this special occasion, IDFA TV has released several festival favorites from and about China online for free.
At the moment, the following films are available online at IDFA TV:
Readymade (Zhang Bingjian, China, 2008, 81 mins) Mao Zedong, the major founder and leader of the People’s Republic and Communist Party of China, died 32 years ago. This is a documentary about two ordinary individuals who have a physical likeness to Mao and choose to be his impersonators. As a result, their life and destiny have changed ever since.
Jade Green Station (Yu Jian, China, 2003) In very little time, the sleepy village of Bise in China became a lively meeting place after the construction of a railroad there. Jade Green Station screened at IDFA 2004 in the IDFA Competition for First Appearance.
Feet Unbound (Khee-Jin Ng, Australia, 2006, 107 mins) Seventy years later, women who survived the Long March of the Red Army tell their stories. Meanwhile, a Chinese journalist follows the same route on a voyage of discovery all her own. Feet Unbound had its world premiere at IDFA 2006 and was selected for the Joris Ivens competition.
In the following weeks, more films from and about China will be added to the IDFA TV program.
BACKGROUND: Documentary culture in China Documentary makers in China have a level of freedom that the makers of fiction films can only envy. The advent of the small, digital video camera means that Chinese documentary filmmakers are less and less dependent on government financing.
Since the beginning of this century, a growing number of independent Chinese filmmakers have embraced the opportunities offered by video. Sociologists and other university researchers, people who originally had little to do with moving images, have also discovered the medium. This represents a real democratisation of documentary.
Along with independent filmmakers, many large and small independent production companies have emerged. China’s more than two hundred regional television broadcasters play a major role in commissioning and buying documentaries that would not readily be broadcast by national stations, partly out of fear of attracting too much attention from the censors.
Does the Chinese government mind that more and more documentaries are being made of the country’s less attractive aspects? Not always. Documentaries about the harshness of the agrarian way of life, about the difficulty of organising local elections and about local problems can help generate discussions of issues that the local authorities may otherwise prefer to sweep under the carpet. This motivates local television stations to grant commissions for documentaries that highlight local issues, as a form of democratic control that would otherwise be very difficult to achieve.
Documentaries from China are often strikingly intimate. Their disarming genuineness and openness allow us to empathise with the main characters. At such moments, as (Western) viewers we do not feel so far removed from the Chinese, however different their world may seem.
This article is an abbreviated version of the introduction written by Garrie van Pinxteren in 2006 for the festival program China Transit. Garrie van Pinxteren was correspondent for NRC Handelsblad in China from 2001-2006.