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Modern Murmurings of New Ethnic Minorities

Curator: Gu Xue

About ‘New’ Ethnic Minorities

The first time I realised my ethnic identity was when I was making a documentary in Xinjiang. I had some contact with Mongolians, Kazakh, Uyghurs, and Hui people. Each time I mentioned that I was a Manchu, their eyes shone with a certain intimacy. I wondered whether this was an ancient connection. Though there was no trace of Manchuness in my memory while growing up, it seems to have reopened there. 

In China, ‘ethnic minority’ is a collective term for all the people who are not from the mainstream Han ethnic group. Compared to the Han population, each ethnic group is in a truly minority position in terms of its population size. As a collective, each ethnic group is also different from the Han in terms of their religion, culture, and traditions.

In 2016, I was honoured to get a chance to work with filmmaker Gu Tao to launch Inner Mongolia Youth Film Week. I met a number of ethnic minority filmmakers there and watched films about these areas. Their works were different from ethnic minority films of the past: no grand narratives and fewer imagined ethnic symbols. Their films could connect with anyone alive now because they were reflections on identity and emotional confusion, as well as observations of the everyday.  

I have selected seven short films by ethnic minority filmmakers for this online exhibition. All the filmmakers were born in the 1990s. I call them ‘new’ because their living environment and lifestyle are different from those of past, so they have had new thoughts and feelings that are different from previous generations. The phrase ‘modern murmurings’ suggests their attention to daily life in the contemporary context and how their thoughts are imbued with their personal experience. It is more like self-reflection and a conversation with themselves.

Most of the seven films are the directors’ filmmaking debuts. The reason I have selected their earlier works is because I want to show how, at the beginning of their filmmaking, they are exploring. I do not want to present particularly mature work. The start of their filmmaking, their earliest experiments, confusion, and imaginings are very precious to me.

They, together with their works, are still young. But I see a bright future.

About the Exhibition

I am not a film programming specialist. I am a filmmaker and only got to know this field when I worked on Inner Mongolia Youth Film Week. When I curate a film exhibition, I prefer to do it from the audience’s perspective while also including my own personal perspectives as a filmmaker.

I think communicating with filmmakers after screenings is very important. In this film exhibition, ‘Modern Murmurings of New Ethnic Minorities,’ I situate filmmakers and their works in a position of equal importance. The sharing of filmmakers’ experience and feelings is an extension of their films. Here, cinema is no longer a cold screen. The participation of the filmmakers makes waking from the dream of the film less sad. We find a new continuity, which is so vivid, in life outside the screen.

As a documentary filmmaker, I can’t help picking up my camera. It is my pen with which I observe and describe these filmmakers. I filmed interviews with them and made some short videos. In addition, I treat the online exhibition as a real space in which to put up objects meaningful to their films or individual growth. Visitors may touch and feel them. I have also included information on their next film projects. I hope that through this exhibition, audiences get to know these filmmakers, remember them, and continue to pay attention to them.

The interweaving of reality and cinematic space, together with the intertextuality of the real and the fictional, connects the inside and outside of the films, and makes us better understand the current conditions of minority groups in China as well as the creative situation of these young filmmakers. Will they still be making films in five years’ time? What kind of films will they make? Will I have a future opportunity to curate another exhibition for these filmmakers, to present my new thoughts on films, on growing-up and on ethnic minorities?

About the Curator

Gu Xue is a Manchu filmmaker and curator. She holds a Master’s degree in Art from the Communication University of China, and is the co-founder of Inner Mongolia Youth Film Week. Her films include The Choice (家庭会议, 2019).