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New Book on the New Chinese Documentary Movement

By Isabella Tianzi Cai

The New Chinese Documentary Film Movement: For the Public Record (authors Chris Berry, Lu Xinyu, Lisa Rofel)

A new book by three eminent China scholars is out – The New Chinese Documentary Film Movement: For the Public Record edited by Chris Berry, Lu Xinyu, and Lisa Rofel. Peter Monaghan has a full report for Moving Image Archive News.

Rofel, Professor of Anthropology from the University of California Santa Cruz, and Berry, film professor from the University of London, first received a grant from the University of California’s Pacific Rim Research Program to do research on independent Chinese documentaries in 2003. Back then (and as still is the case), the state film archive of China, China Film Archive/China Film Art Research Institute, did not bother building a collection of independent Chinese documentaries. In order to get their hands on these undocumented works, the two professors relied entirely on the close-knit community of independent filmmakers and a few film enthusiasts for second-hand copies.

So far, their research has borne fruit, not just in shedding light on an exciting documentary movement, but on a diverse range of social and artistic topics: from the significance of gay, lesbian, and queer films in reflecting a growing but largely closeted subculture, to xianchang or “on-the-spot” aesthetics of independent documentaries. These insights support the argument that in China,

documentary films are becoming the signature mode of contemporary Chinese visual culture as filmmakers open up new spaces of social commentary and critique in an era of rapid social changes amid globalization and marketization. (The Moving Image Archive News)

As Berry and Rofel note, over the past few years, Chinese filmmakers and scholars have shown genuine concern to preserve and catalog independent documentary films. At least two institutions – Chinese veteran independent filmmaker Wu Wenguang’s Caochangdi Workshop and film professor Lu Xinyu from Fudan University of Shanghai independently – have started independent library projects to house documentary films that reside outside China’s film registry.

dGenerate Films has also earned its rightful place in the book. As acknowledged by the authors, “dGenerate Films has been making key documentaries available commercially in the United States.”

The New Chinese Documentary Film Movement is available now on Amazon.


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