Collective Excitement: Individual Expressions: The 7th China Independent Film Festival
Opening Ceremony of the 7th China Independent Film Festival in Nanjing (photo courtesy of CIFF)
By Sara Beretta
The 7th China Independent Film Festival (CIFF), which ran from October 21-25, was a five-day affair packed with screenings and forums. Among the changes in this year’s event were a new curatorial team (Dong Bingfeng, Du Qingchun, Wei Xidi) and a new location, Nanjing University. Under the guidance of Zhang Xianmin (Beijing Film Academy Professor, curator, critic, filmmaker, actor, producer and dGenerate consultant), the curators worked with both the Committee (Cao Kai, Chen Yun, Li Li, Zhang Xiamin, Zhou Kai) and the Selection Team (Cai Meng, Liu Jiayin, Wang Liren, Wei Xidi, Wang Xiaolu) put together a stellar program of events and screenings.
The Festival offered different sections, such as “Feature Film Competition”, “Top Ten Documentaries of the Year”, “New Swiss Films”, “Wide Land and Deep Sky” and “Contemporary Artists New Images Works Exhibition”, as well as indie pioneer Zhang Yuan’s solo exhibition at RCM Museum. A huge audience (mainly students, visitors and professional) and outstanding guests took part to forums and screenings, including dGenerate’s founder and President Karin Chien, and critic, curator and dGenerate’s editorial contributor Shelly Kraicer.
The Jury (composed by experts Han Dong, Cui Zien, Hu Fang, Lu Yue and Ning Dai) assigned the First Prize to Li Ruijun with The Old Donkey, chose Liu Jian’s animation film Piercing for Debut Prize and Rivers and My Father by Li Luo for the Jury’s Prize. All the three works contend with self-reflection and memory, though in different ways and from distinctive perspectives.
Performance by Li Ning's J-Town dance troupe at the CIFF Opening Ceremony (photo courtesy of CIFF)
In lieu of a documentary prize, the festival offers a “Top Ten Documentaries” showcasing the year’s best work in the genre. Some possessed an ethnographic imprint, like Chen Xinzhong’s Red White, that reports the Sichuan post-earthquake with a very intimate glance; Mao Chenyu’s Triumph of the Will portrays the Tujia minority’s Nuo Opera in Guizhou Province; Qiu Jiongjiong’s movingly original Madame presents Madame Bi Langda telling her life story. The three hour experimental work Tape by Li Ning is also remarkable; what’s more, the author and his crew opened the festival with a memorable live performance. Different in approach and somehow controversial are the works by the young and fresh Xue Jianqiang, with his provocative Martian Syndrome and I Beat the Tiger When I Was Young, and Cop Shop by Zhou Hao (whose film Using is distributed by dGenerate).
Among the many noteworthy narrative features, one standout was the humorous, reality-based Single Man by Hao Jie, wherein the director returned to his country roots to involve peasants in a tricky and reflexive relationship story investigating the course of history and villagers’ life. Single Man and Yuan Fei’s Cleaning both received special mention from the Jury. Tracing the boundaries of the real, unreal and super-real are Li Hongqi’s Winter Vacation and The High Life by Zhao Dayong (in dG’s catalogue with Street Life and Ghost Town).
Along with the screenings, a contemporary audiovisual art exhibition was inaugurated at Shandong Contemporary Art Center, highlighting the relevant emerging relationship between Art and Film in Chinese Contemporary, investigated, studied and discussed here by Samantha Culp.
From this year’s CIFF, one can already sense that Chinese independent film is running through a very particular period fueled by the collective urge of (mostly young) people compelled to express themselves, to record their memories, and to tell a reality that’s becoming increasingly subjective. Armed with increasingly accessible filmmaking equipment, their efforts range from the ethnographically objective to the intensely self-reflexive. The results are moving, exciting and promising.