Ou Ning Programs Chinese Documentary Series in Countryside
By Ou Ning
The Bishan Harvestival is a three-day festival of performances, discussions and other events organized on the topic of rural culture in China. It will be held in Bishan village in Yi County, Anhui Province, August 26-28. More details can be found on Ou Ning’s website Alternative Archive.
Xiuli Film Lot in Li County of Anhui Province
Bishan Harvestival Film screenings: Paradox of Reality: Contemporary Documentaries on the Chinese Countryside Time: August 28, 2011 10:00-18:00 Place: The Film Theater at Xiuli Film Lot in Yi County of Anhui Province
The Chinese independent film movement, which started in the early 1990s, has consistently delved into the vast undocumented reality of Chinese society, recording life in the time of change and writing history from the micro perspective of one individual. Many filmmakers associated with this movement show great concern over the changing living conditions of Chinese villagers and their outlook on life; these filmmakers have devoted tremendous energy in bringing forth the social problems, the political movements, the religious practices, the customs and traditions, and the preservation of history in rural China. They are often seen around villagers’ houses and fields, using their lens to sculpture the changing times experienced by a time-honored agricultural society under the myriad forces of modernization. Their documentaries are one of the most valuable historical records of rural China.
The documentaries selected for the Bishan Harvestival this year include Li Yifan’s film about religious organizations and village governance and its impact on villagers’ daily lives in Sichuan, Mao Chenyu’s trilogy on family planning, death, and mysticism, Guo Xizhi’s two films on small towns’ political reforms and relocation projects, Lu Xinyu’s focused study on the daily events in a small village in Huizhou, and two other films made by two villagers under the supervision of Wu Wenguang. The aforementioned first four filmmakers perceive reality from an outsider’s perspective whereas the latter two belong to the rural world of their subject – therefore, their films are self-portraits.
During the making of these documentaries about Chinese village life, the filmmakers have consciously minimized their elitism. They went down to the grassroots level and created a leveled field of vision to use for their documentaries. They let reality speak for itself and let images forge their own objectivity. In the villagers’ documentaries, the comments and suggestions given by professionals were treated as advice; during the production stage, the professionals all “exit stage left” and let villagers take the central roles. This method harbingers a kind of imagistic democracy in the age of affordable digital filmmaking for the common people; it stands out against the rampant elitism in today’s culture as a big step forward; and it corresponds to the principles behind rural development since the time of the Republic of China (1912-1949).