Hollywood, Chinese multiplexes are paved with gold. Unfortunately, you will be
more likely to see a leprechaun inside one than a locally produced independent
film or documentary. Any film accurately reflecting the struggles of China’s
underclass and the corruption of the Communist government will never be
approved for domestic distribution. Of course, that will not be an issue for
our left coast moguls, but it is a persistent frustration for discerning cineastes
and just plain curious viewers. The sad state of official Chinese film
distribution is analyzed in Yijun He’s short but revealing documentary, When You Can’t See the Film, which screens as
part of the 2014 UN Association Film Festival in the Stanford area.
Yijun’s film is especially timely in the wake of thuggish forced closure of
this year’s Beijing Independent Film Festival. This is a familiar story to small
but hearty band of the underground film clubs that have sprung up to fill the
demand for unsanctioned independent film, particularly documentaries. Often
meeting in bars or universities, organizers risk arrest and persecution for the
sake of cinema, but they are not bandits. Clubs always screen films with the
consent and participation of filmmakers grateful to have a forum for their
works, typically offering a small honorarium for their appearance.
their previous venues were shut down under suspicious circumstances, the
primary club featured in WYCSTF ironically
rents space from a local multiplex, sort of following the hide-in-plain-sight
strategy. It is nice to see American documentarian J.P. Sniadecki (whose The Iron Ministry was one of the
unlikely hits of this year’s NYFF) present his previous film Yumen and graciously engage with
patrons. On the state authorities’ Richter scale, Yumen is probably about a three, given it applies Sniadecki’s
uncompromising ethnographic observational aesthetic to an abandoned Northwest
industrial ghost town.
Xu Xin’s Karamay qualifies as a radioactive
ten-plus. The nearly six hour epic documentary expose the infamous (despite a
total media blackout) fire in which nearly three hundred school children
perished while government officials were ushered to safety. It is clearly the
film to program if you want your screening swarming with cops.
The club organizers Yijun profiles and the
filmmakers they support truly represent independent film in its bravest and
most honest manifestation. It puts to shame our smug little so-called indies
that cling to the label and the marketing platforms that come with it. At a
svelte thirty minutes, When You Can’t See
the Film is quite illuminating and sadly frustrating for film lovers. Highly
recommended, it screens this Saturday (10/25) in Palo Alto, as part of session
27 of this year’s UNAFF.
Labels: China, Documentary, UNAFF '14