C/LENS is a Berlin-based, non-profit film curation project that explores to use cinema as a space for transcultural dialogues by showcasing rarely exhibited Chinese independent films. The curatorship mainly focuses on socio-political issues regarding women, migration and urbanization represented in Chinese filmmakers’ works.
Echo Tang is a Berlin-based cultural researcher from Chengdu. Before moving to Berlin, she worked as a documentary producer in China. She initiated C/LENS in 2022 as her German Chancellor Fellowship project, one which reflects the intersection of her strong interest and ongoing research in cinema studies, feminism, and socially engaged practices.
Figure 1. Echo Tang introduces the ‘New Women, New Narratives’ film program, 18 June 2022, Sinema Transtopia, Berlin (credit: Misa)
Could you briefly tell us who you are and what C/LENS is?
I got admitted to the 2021-2022 German Chancellor Fellowship, and as a result, I moved to Berlin in October 2021, a city that is very new to me, where I didn’t really know anyone before.
C/LENS is a project I initiated in early 2022, when I gradually figured out that as a Chinese, a feminist and a citizen, living in Berlin, this could be a way to create a space where important things could be talked about without censorship and fear, different perspectives could be exchanged on an equal basis, and a sense of connection could be created. It was initially a vague idea driven by some idealist passion for community and connecting people, constant (re)configuration of cultural identity, the feeling and effort of trying not to be overwhelmed by the cosmopolitan Berlin yet to locate myself in a way, etc.
Figure 2. The openning program of C/LENS, Haus der Statistik, Berlin, 30 April 2022 (credit: C/LENS)
What work does C/LENS do?
C/LENS curates film screening programs with specific themes and picks what we (well, so far it’s more like “I”, but it’s expected to be a curator team in the future as the project grows) believe are among the most daring, original, interesting and important indie films by Chinese filmmakers in the recent decade.
C/LENS will focus more on documentary cinema (since it’s a really powerful medium that speaks directly to our agenda) while not excluding feature films.
Besides the viewing experience, through a variety of activities including Q&A sessions and panel discussions, the project seeks to create a unique opportunity for the audience to connect with each other, and engage in dialogues with filmmakers alongside curators, scholars, etc. We look forward to meeting viewers from diverse backgrounds, who bring along their own experiences, emotions and perspectives into the cinema, and co-create a community of mutual understanding and solidarity.
Figure 3. The first screening, Haus der Statistik, Berlin (credit: Chen Xu)
Why do you think these things are important?
I always want to live in a world of mutual understanding, love and equality, and I know I need to be part of the collective effort of making it with what I have and what I can do.
I am listing the missions and visions of C/LENS below, and I think they help explain the “why” question:
- To introduce the less known yet vibrant contemporary Chinese cinema to the European audience
- To unfold the complex realities of contemporary China with diverse and authentic insider perspectives, evoking new reflections by challenging preconceptions and stereotypes
- To draw greater attention to the topics of Chinese feminism and migration and foster public discussions
- To formulate a space for meaningful dialogue, solidarity, and connection
- To bridge the gap of knowledge and understanding between China and Germany/Europe
Figure 4. Film screening, Haus der Statistik, Berlin (credit: C/LENS)
What issues does C/LENS hope to address? In what approach(es)?
I set the issues (or agenda) for the curatorship scope when I started framing the project: Feminism, Migration and Urbanization.
I think they are transnational and transcultural issues that speak to all of us, therefore, we hope that, followed by presenting the films from the Chinese context, the program invites active participation and critical spectatorship across different social and cultural contexts.
This is what I wrote for the “New Woman, New Narrative” series:
“As the curator, I would be very happy to see the program thus evolving from an idea born out of my personal interest into something that resembles cross-cultural feminist research, where participants not only watch the films but actively contribute to a broader discussion by bringing in their own experiences and perspectives. “
Figure 5. “New Woman, New Narrative” Screening, Sinema Transtopia, Berlin (credit: Chen Xu)
Could you introduce some events you have organized so far? What were the highlights? What were you most proud of?
C/LENS has already successfully hosted three programs so far – the April program at Haus der Statistik, June program at (and in collaboration with) Sinema Transtopia, and July Program at (and in collaboration with) ZK/U.
The April and June programs belong to the curation series New Women, New Narrative, which is also the opening series of our project. New Women, New Narrative explores the tension between the omnipresent patriarchy in China and Chinese women who live through a sweeping feminist awakening. Transgender teenage girl, rural poet, university students, lesbian activists… As women, they confront dissimilar yet connected challenges in life, and all of them have created extraordinary narratives of resistance and agency.
In April, we screened a feature documentary Still Tomorrow （《摇摇晃晃的人间》）together with a small exhibition of the poem works (in Chinese and English) of the protagonist, famous poet You Xiuhua. More than 70 people showed up, so we had to find more chairs and some people had to sit on the floor. It was an exhausting event as we set up everything from scratch, the projection, the exhibition, the chairs … but we were truly happy to have collected many hand-written positive feedback from the audience afterward, together with a good amount of donation to help cover the costs.
In June, the program was curated around the specific theme “Feminist and LGBTQ+ Activism in Contemporary China”, bringing three inspiring independent documentaries made by feminist and LGBTQ+ activists in mainland China: Xiaodi, The VaChina Monologues and We Are Here. One of the directors, Popo Fan, was present for the Q&A session with our Berlin audience. The first screening was totally sold out and the second was also almost sold out, which was surprising to our arthouse cinema partner too.
Figure 6. Popo Fan at the Q&A session, Sinema Transtopia, Berlin (credit: Chen Xu)
Besides, we included a special online program, including the online screening of the three documentaries and a webinar with three feminist and queer scholars – Jinyan Zeng, Hongwei Bao, and Yunyun Zhou.
The July program was a special summer event with the particular theme “Berlin x Chengdu: an Encounter”, where I drew my personal connection between my present home (Berlin) and my original home (Chengdu). I have chosen four award-winning short films made by emerging Chengdu filmmakers, three of them female. As curator, I was also putting the previous “New Woman, New Narrative” agenda in the film selection, for example, one short film Abortion Mary is a bold, feminist twist of the Biblical story, and another Pink Pill is a well-made and rare lesbian-theme short film from mainland China. According to my colleague, there were more than 400 participants that evening, completely exceeding my biggest exception before the program (200 people), which was a highlight.
I’m the kind of Asian who always believes things could be done better and never gives their own projects a high mark. But I’m also proud of the simple fact that this is HAPPENING. A few months ago, C/LENS was just a vague idea in my mind that I didn’t have enough confidence to present to others, and now screenings are taking place, more people are following and supporting, new opportunities for collaboration are emerging, and most importantly, at least at every screening, the audience is moved, connected and inspired, as what I hope for from day one.
Frankly speaking, these kinds of newly born, independent projects are mostly faced with challenges of extremely limited resources (especially people and funding), and there is no guarantee in terms of how things can be worked out. But I’ve started communicating with and learning from other film curators and practitioners to figure out more creative and sustainable ways of development, and I believe C/LENS will thrive as it continues to be a more open platform.
Figure 7. Berlin x Chengdu Open-air cinema event, ZK/U, Berlin (credit: Echo Tang)
What do you hope to continue working on and improve? Do you have any future plans?
In a nutshell, sustainability is what I would emphasize – including structural, financial, and cultural sustainability.
I do have future plans, and they might look a little bit ambitious. The most recent future plan is to organize the first indie Chinese cinema week in Berlin in the upcoming November. Now that there are Chinese film festivals in Paris, London, New York, I think it is time for Berlin too.
In the long run, I hope to register C/LENS as an NGO in Berlin and make good use of funding opportunities. I hope C/LENS will establish its unique voice in the cultural scene of Berlin, retain its authenticity and vibrancy, and thrive as an open project that nurtures possibilities for other film curators, directors, and more.
Do you have any message for C/LENS readers?
If you are interested in what we do and what we envision, please feel free to get involved in any possible way! You can be a team member, a collaborator, a participant, a (co-) curator, a sponsor, a consultant, a content contributor, or a critic …
Figure 8. Berlin x Chengdu Open-air cinema event, ZK/U, Berlin, 2022 (credit: Chen Xu)