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The Spark That Lit The Fuse: Chinese Documentary Directors’ Encounter With Frederick Wiseman



While many people note the influence of direct cinema on Chinese independent documentaries, few know that the first encounter between direct cinema and Chinese independent filmmakers took place in Yamagata, Japan in 1993—and that the spark that lit the fuse in the first place kindled a great fire in the world of Chinese documentary filmmaking at the beginning of the twenty-first century. At the 1993 Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, Akiyama Tamako worked as a translator for attendees Wu Wenguang, Duan Jinchuan, and Hao Zhiqiang. Akiyama narrates the day during the festival when they saw Zoo by Frederick Wiseman and were struck by its observational style. After the festival, Wu would bring many of Wiseman’s films back to China, and showcase them to friends in screening and discussion groups hosted at his house, as well as writing about them. Several Chinese directors began to emulate Wiseman’s methods. Although the direct cinema boom emerged from the advent of digital technology, its origins can be traced back squarely to that screening of Zoo in Yamagata, 1993.