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Tony Rayns praises Chinese Indies at the Vancouver Film Festival

In Joanne Lee-Young’s article for the Vancouver Sun, longtime Asian film programmer and critic Tony Rayns spotlights some of his favorite films in this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival Dragons & Tigers Program of Asian cinema. Our own blog contributor Shelly Kraicer programmed the Chinese titles in the series, some of which are mentioned below:

Rayns: “In the last 10 years or so… nearly all of the creative energy in [mainland] Chinese cinema has come from the independent sector, from kids working outside the film industry.” This means that when there is an event, like the devastating Sichuan earthquake last year, filmmakers like Du Haibin, “who has always been drawn to the marginal, the dispossessed and people who are socially at the bottom of the ladder,” said Rayns, rush off to film those events. “What he came up with is very different from what the news organizations did,” said Rayns. “He’s not going to launch into a violent attack on the authorities for shoddy building standards, but he very clearly shows the nature of the problem as it hit the region. Why did so many school buildings collapse? Why were so many kids among the victims?” This year, for the first time, Rayns split the task of identifying Asian films for the VIFF with Shelly Kraicer, who spends a large part of the year based in Beijing. While Rayns focused on films from Japan, Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, Kraicer kept tabs on Chinese films out of mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, plus Malaysia and Singapore. The Search by Tibetan director Pema Tseden is another Chinese pick that Rayns describes as “aggressively Tibetan” without being overtly political. Notably, it’s only the second feature to be made by a Tibetan crew and cast inside China. In the past, most films about Tibet have been “done by Han Chinese, so there is quite a long history of rather folksy movies about the exoticism of Tibet,” said Rayns. The Search tells the casting of a traditional Tibetan opera and it, “of course, it reveals other things about Tibet, the status of Tibetan culture, the threats to it as it gets harder to find people to perform this stuff because the traditions are dying out,” said Rayns. Wu Haohao, a young director from China, is also on Rayns’ list of recommendations. “He is in his early 20s. Very headstrong. Very full of himself, but he is different from the others,” said Rayns. “He does personal essay films, which are very critical about his contemporaries and the political apathy of his generation. He’s quite provocative. He’s nothing like Michael Moore, but he is at the centre of his own documentary in all his flagrant nudity.”


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