All of the films in Street Level Visions: Indie Docs from China were produced outside the country's official production channels. These include several films and makers Edwards has written about for RealTime. Two of the documentary directors, Ou Ning and Wang Jiulaing, are guests of the festival.
One of the major figures of contemporary Chinese documentary filmmaking is Zhao Liang. Petition (2009) was shot over more than a decade in the petitioners' community in Beijing, made up of people who travel from all over China and endure often violent harassment in order to seek justice from the central authorities over alleged abuses of power in their home towns. Edwards wrote about Petition when it was unveiled at the Hong Kong Film Festival in 2009. Also screening is Liang's Crime and Punishment (2007), an observational film about the daily workings of a unit of the People's Armed Police (China's paramilitary police force) stationed in a small town on the border with North Korea.
In April-May 2010, Edwards wote about Hu Jie's Searching for the Soul of Lin Zhao (2004) and Though I Am Gone (2007). For Lin Zhao, Hu travelled China searching out those who knew Lin, a young writer who was an ardent supporter of the Communist Revolution and Mao's land reforms in the early 1950s. After defending fellow students at Peking University during the Anti-Rightist campaign of 1957, she was expelled and became bitterly disillusioned with the direction of China under Mao. Imprisoned in the early 1960s, she composed thousands of words into poems and essays in jail, often using her own blood for ink when she was denied writing materials. She was secretly executed in 1968. Though I Am Gone is similarly based on an eyewitness account of history, this time focusing on the deputy headmistress of a famous Beijing high school who was beaten to death by her own students in the opening weeks of the Cultural Revolution in late 1966. Her husband secretly photographed her bloodied corpse and the events leading to her death, images he reveals publicly for the first time in the film.
| Wang Jingyao, husband of Bian Zhongyun, with the camera he used to photograph his wife’s body in 1966 after she was murdered by Red Guards, in Hu Jie’s documentary Though I Am Gone (2006)|
Ou Ning's Meishi St evolved from the filmmaker's stumbling on the story of restaurateur Zhang Jinli in 2005 while filming just south of Tiananmen Square. Like thousands of other Beijing residents, Zhang's home and business were to be demolished in the lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Oiympics as part of a 'modernisation' of the capital. Ou Handed Zhang a camera and asked him to help document his fight for just compensation.
Edwards describes Zhou Hao's The Transition Period (2008) as "an extraordinary look into the workings of government in China. Zhou followed the General Secretary of a poor inland county during his last months in office, capturing the pressures, the boozing and the backroom manouvering that comprise local politics in China."
The most recent work in the program is Beijing Besieged by Waste (2011), a debut film by Wang Jiuliang, a Beijing-based photographer who set out to document Beijing's chronic waste problem and stumbled upon hundreds of illegal and unregulated landfills encircling the capital.
Ou Ning and Wang Jiulaing will be guests of the festival, introducing their films at the screenings and appearing at a public panel in the festival bar, chaired by Dan Edwards. This is a great opportunity to engage with rarely seen, adventurous Chinese documentary films in the presence of their makers. RT
Accounts of the films above are based on notes provided by Dan Edwards. Read his Archive Highlight on contemporary Chinese cinema which includes an introduction and links to many RealTime articles on the subject.
"Records, Resistance or Cold War Clichés? Chinese Documentary in Focus," Ou Ning and Wang Jiulaing, Talk, Tues, Aug 14, 5.30-6.15pm; Festival Lounge, Forum Theatre, free
Melbourne International Film Festival, Street Level Visions: Chinese Independent Docos, programmer Dan Edwards; http://miff.com.au/program/street_leve; http://screeningchina.blogspot.com/
RealTime issue #109 June-July 2012 pg. web
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