In this year’s Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, running from October 8 to October 15, Chinese director Cong Feng’s Doctor Ma’s Country Clinic won the Directors Guild of Japan Award; Ji Dan’s Spiral Staircase of Harbin, and Mao Chenyu’s Ximaojia Universe won Special Mentions in the New Asian Currents unit.
First held in October 1989, the biannual YIDFF is one of the longest running documentary film festivals in the world and the most distinguished among such festivals in Asia. Chinese directors have a formidable award record in the fest. Former winners include Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks (2003) and Fengming: A Chinese Memoir (2007), both by Wang Bing, and Before the Flood (Dir: Li Yifan and Yanyu, 2005) for the The Robert and Frances Flaherty Prize (The Grand Prize), as well as Wellspring (Dir. Sha Qing, 2003) and Bingai (Dir. Feng Yan, 2007) for the Ogawa Shinsuke Prize.
Four films from mainland China, all independently-produced, entered this year’s New Asian Currents unit. They are:
Doctor Ma’s Country Clinic (Ma Daifu de Zhensuo, dir. Cong Feng, 2008)
In the arid mountains of remote and inaccessible Huangyangchuan, Gansu Province, a small country clinic becomes a dual space for healing physical pain, and also for expressing and sharing psychological sufferings. The anger, complains, and lamentations of the patients offer a dissecting view of the lives and spirits of the local farmers.
Spiral Staircase of Harbin (Huaxuan louti, dir. Ji Dan, 2009)
Two slices of life from two unrelated families in an old working class neighborhood in Harbin, located in northeast China. A mother lives with her daughter when the father is in jail; an old man is tormented by a seemingly fatal disease, harsh economy and a spoiled son. The director calls this film a re-examination of the shadowed forest in the middle of our life. (Synopsis summarized from a report by Ma Ran for Fanhall.com.)
Ximaojia Universe (Shenyan xiang, dir. Mao Chenyu, 2009)
In the dual role as a group member and an ethnographer, the filmmaker engages in an anthropological study of the Ximao clan, and reconstructs the mythology and cosmology of a simple village through the study of its poetry and political life.
Disorder (Xianshi shi guoqu de weilai, dir. Huang Weikai, 2009)
An urban symphony, consisting of footage from a dozen filmmakers, weaves together over twenty bizarre incidents in daily life in Guangzhou, including a lunatic dancing ecstatically in the middle of the street, pigs running wildly on a highway, a fight over counterfeit money, an escaped alligator, and many more.