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Reel China at NYU Film Biennial This Weekend

Reel China@NYU 7th Film Biennial Friday, April 11 – Sunday, April 13

Reel China 2014 once again samples outstanding contemporary Chinese independent documentaries, while also showcasing a few innovative narrative and experimental films, using different kinds of media or technology, by emerging filmmakers in China, Hong Kong, and the diaspora. Several are award-winning films from the Beijing Independent Film Festival (BIFF), our long-term collaborator in China.  Participating filmmakers range from more experienced documentarians to young novices.  As their disparate visions and voices extend and overlap, we witness the persistent presence of independent cameras that assures the discovery and creative engagement of disorienting contemporary social and psychic fragments becoming history at breakneck speed.

Film descriptions follow after the break – full schedule and details can be found at the NYU Center for Religion and Media.

Post-screening discussions with visiting filmmakers. With a special screening of ZHANG Meng’s The Piano in a Factory (105 min, 2011) at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, April 12, 7PM.

Featured image: still from Born in Beijing by MA Li

Organized by ZHANG Zhen (NYU) & Angela Zito (NYU)

Presented by The Asian Film and Media Initiative at NYU’s Department of Cinema Studies and The Center for Religion and Media

Sponsored by The Center for Media, Culture & History, China House NYU, with the support of the Provost’s Global Research Initiative

Thanks to Li Xianting’s Film Fund, Beijing

This event is free and open to the public (except for The Piano in the Factory). Seating is limited and is available first-come, first-served.

Unless otherwise noted, all events will take place at: NYU’s Department of Cinema Studies Michelson Theater 721 Broadway, 6th Floor


FRIDAY April 11 1:30pm Welcome & Introduction by ZHANG Zhen (NYU) and Angela Zito (NYU)

1:45 Stratum 1: The Visitors (CONG Feng,  2013, 127m)

The two parts of “Stratum 1: The Visitors” combine fiction, documentary and experimental elements. In Part A,  two men (the visitors) meet one night in an abandoned building, and share their memories about early lives in their hometowns. They leave this building and continue to roam in the night, then finding themselves back at the abandoned building: it looks more unfamiliar now, then it collapses and disappears. They leave this place, pass by more demolition ruins and finally reach the edge of the city, and arriving at a hill made of piled-up construction waste. On the top of the hill, they see the railway that leads to their hometown. Part B is about the demolition of the main site shot in Part A.

A note on the use of music for Part B in Stratum I: Visitors: At the closing ceremony of the 10th Beijing Independent Film Festival in 2013, avant-garde musicians Liu Sola and Liu Yijun (Lao Wu of the band Tang Dynasty) were invited to make an improvisational performance. Festival organizers arranged to have Part b of Cong Feng’s Stratum I: Visitors projected during the performance. Without any prior knowledge of the film, the music they performed strikingly echoed the film’s style and content, generating an impressive effect. Having obtained the permissions of the musicians as well as Li Xianting Film Fund, 7th Reel China @ NYU will project the film with the recorded music. Our sincere thanks to Ms. Liu Sola and Mr. Liu Yijun for their kind permission and generous support. Copyright of the music resides with the musicians. Recording on any devices during the exhibition is strictly prohibited.

4-4:30 Q&A with director CONG Feng, moderated by ZHANG Zhen

5:00 Detachment of Women (WANG Nanfu, 2014, 60m) *SNEAK PREVIEW* Taking its title from the popular folk song “Red Detachment of Women” widely sung during the Communist Revolution years, the film updates this message of resistance by documenting today’s female soldiers in China – the ones who dare to stage public protests in the name of human rights and who are willing to suffer the consequences.

6 – 6:30 Q&A with director WANG Nanfu, moderated by Angela Zito

8:00pm Cop Shop II  (ZHOU Hao, 2011 76 min)

“Turn to cops when you need help” was a popular saying during Mao Zedong’s regime. With official permission to film a documentary at the Guangzhou Railway Station, where as many as 200,000 people a day pass through during the Chinese New Year, director ZHOU Hao shows that people still turn to the cop shop when in need. His slyly observant documentary brings us people trying to get home for the holiday but failing to buy a train ticket, migrant workers seeking back pay from cheating bosses, young gangsters, old men who make a living by picking up rubbish, and thieves and vagrants. This second film made by ZHOU on the cop shop focuses especially on the peddlers who come through daily, giving us a window into contemporary Chinese society.

*** SATURDAY  April 12 1:00 Born in Beijing (MA Li,  2012   240m) *Screening and Q&A will be located at 721 Broadway, room 108*

This film about petitioners’ lives and struggles over years in China’s capital takes its title from the name of the lead character, “Jing Sheng” – literally meaning “Born in Beijing.” Jing, who was born during her mother’s petition process to Beijing, has accompanied, Mrs. Hao for more than three decades as she has pursued justice for her case in the capital. But the film’s scope is wider than their single story: It shows the peculiar experiences and inner struggles of an entire group of people who return repeatedly to, or simply camp out in, the national capital seeking redress for local crimes. This “petitioner village” provides a collective story that director MA Li, as an artist and public intellectual, presents with a clear sense of mission and compassion.

5-5:45 Q&A with director MA Li, moderated by Angela Zito

7pm The Piano in a Factory (ZHANG Meng 2010, 105min) *Screening and Q&A will be located at the NYU Skirball Center for Performing Arts* 566 LaGuardia Pl (map < rts/@40.729842,-73.997763,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x5a8ccf011c920ee a>) THIS IS A TICKETED SCREENING – CLICK HERE <> TO PURCHASE TICKETS (NYU discounts available)

When Chen’s estranged wife reappears asking for a divorce and custody of their daughter, the musically inclined girl decides she will live with whoever can provide her with a piano. Chen’s struggle thus begins. As efforts to borrow money and even steal a piano fail, Chen concocts a preposterous plan – he’ll make a piano from scratch! He persuades a bunch of reluctant, but loyal, misfit friends to help him forage the instrument from a heap of scrap metal in a derelict factory. Though crude in design and tune, the factory piano awaits its first and final performance from his little girl. This luminous reanimation of a dying workplace and an abandoned life brought director ZHANG Meng critical and popular acclaim in China.

9:00 Q&A with director ZHANG Meng, moderated by ZHANG Zhen (NYU)

*** SUNDAY April 13 10:30 Juvenile Laborers Confined in Dabao (XIE Yihui, 2013, 106min)

After Sichuan Daily reporter Zeng Boyan was labeled a rightist in 1958, he was sent to Shaping Farm in E’bian County, Leshan, Sichuan to be re-educated through labor. There he was shocked to witness children as young as ten years old being forced into hard labor in camps deep in the forested countryside, reclaiming wasteland or hauling coal from the mines. Since this period coincided with the three years of the Great Famine (1958-1961), memories from the filmed survivors  burn with stories of not only longing for their families, but of simple hunger. As the state today tries to reform the entrenched, extra-judicial aspects of its prison system, this film reminds us of the horrors of its past.

1:15    A Lao’s Village (LI Youjie, 2012, 74 min)

Alao returns to the village where he grew up, this time to film. We watch while he attempts to get closer to his family and his own identity even as he senses the village drifting away from his life. As he struggles to come to terms with the inner turmoil of his own uncertainties, he discovers the harshness of the village, which in his eyes seems to be a shadow of the place he knew as a child. His bittersweet, lyrical recuperation features his grandmother, parents, fellow villagers and the director himself in a sort of culmination of the thirty years of his life. This personal memoir also documents the emotional consequences of the gap that people find when they return to a countryside left behind in their move to the city.

3:30 Beijing Independent Film Festival Shorts Program (90min) selected and introduced by DONG Bingfeng

-Freud, Fish and Butterfly  (WANG Haiyang, 2010, Animation, 3 min) Drawing with pastel and eraser up to more than 600 times on one piece of sandpaper merely 70 centimeters long and 90 centimeters wide,the director achieved this animation. Winner of the Grand Prix at the 25th Holland International animation film festival.

-One Night in the Capital City (GUO Hanfen, 2012, Narrative, 29 min) A young Hong Kong gangster, Chong, stole all the money from his gang, and fled to an unfamiliar Beijing to lead a new life with his newly met Beijing girlfriend.  His ex-girlfriend follows his trail to the Capital, to unravel the mystery…

-Battle (WEN Muye, 2013, Narrative, 11 min) A Dili, a Uyghur youth working in Beijing, disobeys Islamic doctrine by getting a tattoo, and thus enters into a conflict with his father who comes to visit him.

-The Hunter and the Skeleton (Gyatso Gentsu, 2012, Animation, 26 min) Adapted from one of the folk stories widely spread in the eastern Tibetan area, the film tells a story of a hunter who encounters a skeleton monster while hunting in a mountain.

-All The Lines Flow Out ?LIM Yi – yong, Charles, 2011, Experimental, 21 min? “All  The  Lines  Flow  Out”  takes  the  viewer  for a tour through the vast network of ‘longkangs’, of the  monsoon   drains  of  Singapore, which form an unintended map of the city state. The film charts the journey of a mysterious person who travels through the longkangs searching for a way home.

5:30-6:30 Panel Discussion with all guests and Professor Dan Streible (NYU), moderated by ZHANG Zhen and Angela Zito

NYU’s Department of Cinema Studies Tisch School of the Arts 721 Broadway, 6th Floor New York, NY 10003


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