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Jia Zhangke: “The Age of Amateur Cinema Will Return”

To commemorate Jia Zhangke‘s monthlong career retrospective at MoMA, we’ve translated a seminal essay written by Jia, “The Age of Amateur Cinema Will Return.” The essay amounts to a manifesto on the purpose of cinema in shaping world culture and the significance of “amateur” filmmaking in opposition to an emerging global aesthetic of commercial professionalism.

The essay certainly speaks on behalf of the types of films that we at dGenerate Films cherish, and it accounts for some of the reasons we find these films so valuable to audiences around the world. Both Jia and several of these films will appear at the Asia Society through March and April.

Full essay after the break.

The Age of Amateur Cinema Will Return

(Yeyu dianying shidai jijiang zaici daolai)

Published in One Person’s Impression: Complete Guidebook to DV (Yigeren de yingxiang: DV wanquan shouce), eds. by Zhang, Xianmin and Zhang, Yaxuan, Beijing: China Youth Publishing, 2003

In a restaurant far away from downtown Pusan, Tony Rayns discussed with me some issues on films on behalf of the British magazine Sight & Sound.

For some reason, conversations about films always get people trapped into sentimental feelings. In order to get out of this mood, Tony brought up a new topic and asked me, “What do you think will become the driving force for the development of films in the future?” Without hesitation, I replied, “The age of amateur cinema will return.” This was the most truthful and vivid feeling I had, and I had been continually reinforcing my opinion every time I was asked about the prospects of films.

It certainly challenges the so-called professional filmmakers. Those who strictly follow professional principles and exhaustively describe the marketing ability they possess have long lost their power of thought. They pay too much attention to whether the film is good enough to reflect their professional competencies. For example, the picture should be as delicate as an oil painting, or the mise-en-scene is supposed to match that of Antonioni’s films; even the twinkling spotlight needs to be right on the face of the actor. They repeatedly fathom the professional mindset, cautioning themselves against any amateur act that breaks the established classical rules. Conscience and sincerity, which are crucial to filmmaking, are completely diluted by these facts.

What is left? Rigid concepts and preexisting prejudice. These people are indifferent to innovations; they are not even able to make a judgment. Ironically, they always tell other people: don’t repeat yourself. You need variation.

In fact, some directors have already been vigilant against this situation. Japanese director Oguri K?hei once expressed his worries that, though in the past ten years film production in Asia has improved to almost the same level as world-class standards, the artistic spirit of films has largely declined. During the selection process of the Hong Kong International Film Festival that took place earlier, Huang Ailing said, “What hides behind the myth of high-cost production is the loss of cultural faith.”

Turning on the TV in Korea, what I saw was the same satellite TV channels as those I got in Beijing. I was disappointed. In a few years, young people throughout Asia will probably sing the same song, be attracted to the same clothes; girls will wear the same makeup and carry the same handbag. What kind of world is this turning into? It is precisely in this cultural environment that only independent films that remain committed to the depiction of local culture can provide some cultural diversity. I feel more and more strongly that people can only achieve emotional communication and equal position through diversity. The trend of globalization will make this world become tedious.

Therefore, I say, the age of amateur cinema will return.

This is a group of real film enthusiasts who have unquenchable passion for film.

They naturally exceed the existing professional evaluation method because they are open to more promising film forms.

Their film modes are always unexpected, but the emotion and sentiments they invest in their films are always precise and palpable.

They ignore the so-called professional methods, so they have more chance to be innovative. They refuse to follow the standardized principles, so they acquire more diverse ideas and values. They free themselves from conventional customs and restraints to an infinite space for creation; at the same time, they are earnest and responsible because they persist with the conscience and conduct of intellectuals.

Translation by Yuqian Yan


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