San Francisco Press Raves Over “Fearless” Series – Films Start This Weekend
Karamay (dir. Xu Xin)
“Fearless: Chinese Independent Documentaries” is a monthlong series of films screening at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. The series opens this Sunday with Karamay, Xu Xin’s 6 hour investigation of the 1994 Karamay fire. Other titles include Disorder, which just won Best Documentary at the Ann Arbor Film Festival, and Tape, which recently won the Silver Award at YunFest.
For details on the screenings and venues visit the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
Reviews from local press:
There is a long history of radical documentaries that contest official histories and sanctioned depictions of everyday life, but rare is the concentrated activism we see in the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts series “Fearless: Chinese Independent Documentaries.” These risk-taking records of injustice bear no resemblance to the easy history lessons and celebrity profiles that pass for documentary in the HBO/Sundance sphere. With extended running times and steadfast dedication to witnessing people, places, and histories the Chinese government would just as soon erase, the films are monumental in the deepest sense. “Fearless” opens with Karamay, Xu Xin’s six-hour examination of a tragic fire that killed 323 people while leaving several officials unharmed. As with several of the films that follow, the exhaustiveness of the treatment is itself a rebuke to the government’s suppression of the facts.
In December 1994, the top primary-school students in Karamay, China, assembled at the town theater to perform for smiling Communist Party and city functionaries. This was a high honor as childhood events go, a ceremonial rite of passage attended by the heads of the community. Out of nowhere a short circuit ignited something (it’s not known exactly what), provoking this infamous announcement: “Everybody keep quiet. Don’t move. Let the leaders go first.” And so they did. When the smoke cleared, 288 children lay dead, along with 35 teachers and other adults. The government suppressed this heinous display of cowardice and “leadership,” blocking all outlets for the parents’ grief and outrage. Xu Xin’s six-hour documentary, Karamay, is a landmark in journalistic diligence and a dedicated act of commemoration and healing. The opener of the six-film series, “Fearless: Chinese Independent Documentaries,” Karamay generously gives families and teachers space to relate their memories of that awful December day – and how it forever clouded the way they view their country, leaders, and fellow citizens. Made with the expectation that more foreigners would see it than Chinese, this human-scale epic speaks in a language that transcends borders and governments.
Read some interesting responses by Chinese nationals to Karamay when the film screened at MoMA Documentary Fortnight.
Read a review of Karamay by Robert Koehler in Variety.