For filmmakers, freedom is a verb. My thirty years of filmmaking have been accompanied by flowers and pitfalls. I fell into those pitfalls many times and managed to climb out. I have been practicing and advocating ‘First Person Film’ for over ten years now. The film notes I have written along the way discuss my own work, as well as films by others which I feel the urge to write about. The former is like looking at myself digging; the latter is one tree glancing at another tree.
Wenguang’s Film Notes 97: to Have or to Hold Nothing – Mao Chenyu’s I Have What, The New Chinese Peasant War: Rhetorical Justice
Mao Chenyu sent me his new film “What I have, the New Chinese Peasant War: Rhetorical Justice”, which I watched on the day of the Dragon Boat Festival. I wrote down my customary “notes on the film”.
The film “Monument” is another exception to my filmmaking. It was an accident that it was edited out as a film. The footage was taken from video recordings of live events in the Caochangdi from 2012-2013 and from my camera. There are rehearsals, performances and other events at the Caochangdi. I relied on Mengqi to help with the preparation of the footage and technical support (my recent films over the years have been shot, edited and produced with Mengqi’s help), and Zhang Dun to transcribe some of the lines (about an hour of the film), and the film was edited and subtitled. The film was exported and is 2 hours and 27 minutes long. It will be shown at Bilibili next weekend.
In October, the annual “crossover” exchange in Caochangdi took place. Three films completed by the Folk Memory Project in 2011 were screened: Zhang Mengqi’s Self-Portrait: 47 Kilometres, Zou Xueping’s The Village That Fed Up, and Luo Bing’s Luo’s House: Me and Ren Dingqi.
In August, the Caochangdi Folk Memory Project’s New Film Second Cut Workshop featured eight filmmakers’ new films, which were screened and discussed in turn. Luo Bing’s film Luo’s House: Me and Ren Dingqi was among them. The following is a note I wrote in the mail group after the workshop, entitled “Luo Bing, a tracing of an old man’s memory in his village”.
These are the conversations that took place between July and August 2010 between Luo Bing and me in the Caochangdi mail group. During this month, Luo Bing was in his village of Luojiaya in Chaling, Hunan. I also returned from Caochangdi in Beijing to the village in Yunnan where I used to work as a youth in the countryside. The following email was written in my village in Yunnan, on August 21. I was in the village in Yunnan, thinking of all the young people who were doing the same thing in different villages in the north, south, east and west. It was a long email because my heart was welling up.
At the beginning of August, I also went to “my village”. It was a village in Fumin, Yunnan province, where I was a youth in the mid-1970s. The Caochangdi Mailing Group is a channel for those who have returned to the village to maintain communication. The following emails are excerpts from mine and Luo Bing’s.
Luo Bing is not in the 2022 Cao Changdi Mailing Group anymore. Membership of the Cao Changdi Mailing Group is out of own willingness. At the end of each year, participants need to “renew their subscriptions” to the group. In 2022, Luo Bing is no longer on the list of “Caochangdi Mailing Group Recipients”, which means that Luo who has been on the Caochangdi Mailing Group for 14 years since 2008 has “automatically left”.
This winter, Zhang Ping has been sending in her “Notes from the Village” from her home village. There are now 15 of them, so read on to get to know more details of the village in the mountains of southern Hunan where Zhang Ping is staying.
Walking through the village is a process of illumination. To “illuminate” means to “open up” the consciousness of the mind. My experience is that there is such an “illumination”, first of all the returnees are “illuminated”
As a result of interviewing the elderly, Wang Jiameng, a senior student at the Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts, got closer to them step by step in her grandmother’s village, thus entering into the “details” of her graduation documentary. Wang Jiameng sent in two notes about interviewing her grandmother and another old man, two old men from the same village with similar fates. They both chose to flee the famine more than fifty years ago because of “hunger”. The two old people started from different places: Wang Jiameng’s grandmother fled from Longxi, Gansu Province, and the other one from Deyang, Sichuan Province, but ended up in the same village: Yang Yu, Qian County, Shaanxi Province. The means of settling down is also the same: marrying someone else.
The “Material Reading: Some Scenes of Old Man Ho” by Zhang Mengqi is about three scenes of an old man in a 47 km village after he has recovered from a serious illness. I read it, felt it, and followed it, as a kind of “re-read” of an author’s material.
The filming in the village will later become the “real” work. It is important to be in reality and to have a relationship with the “filmmaking”. It is particularly important to feel the details in the real scene, or to be illuminated by the “light of detail”.
Through 2016, the Folk Memory Project’s winter return to the village began.
The Folk Memory Project started in the summer of 2010. Each winter is a time for participants to return to their villages. 2017 is the seventh winter.
After talking about my own “creation stagnation”, I want to talk about others in this group. Many faces popped into my head. Some are people who have almost reached a dead end and don’t need to say anything more; some are newcomers who I am full of expectation to hold back for the time being; some are people who have said it many times and have become fatigued and now don’t want to say it again; some are people who have said it many times but still can’t help but continue to say it, Wang Hai’an being one example.
Discernment means to be critical and analytical. In filmmaking based on “real images/materials” (I have deliberately avoided the increasingly narrowly defined term “documentary”), the act of “discernment” fills the whole creative process. What is called real life, i.e. everyday life, the so-called dramatic conflicts, contradictions and tensions that the creator instinctively wants to capture are largely hidden ‘underneath’.
Having talked about the “core” of the three new films this year, I would like to talk about how to achieve it. I will repeat my understanding of the “core”. The reason why I keep talking about it is that it is difficult to aim at the “core”, it is always in a vague and drifting state. To use a metaphor, the so-called ‘core’ is not just in sight on the other side of the river, and can be embraced by building a bridge across the river. The ‘core’ is in front of us. We don’t know how far away it is. We only know that it is ‘in front’ and we need to get a little closer. It is a process of “touching”.
After the presentation of the first cut by the filmmakers who took part in the summer workshop, I felt that it would be better to start with the “core of the work” when I think about their films. Perhaps the participants already have a conceived ‘core’ in their first cuts. But after the presentation and discussion of the first cuts, isn’t it worth rethinking the ‘core’?
Junjie Yan is the exception to the “missing people” that I write about. The creation and completion of his film ‘Fragments’ (which I once hailed and which became one of the traction for my later filmmaking direction) had nothing to do with me or Caochangdi. My story with him was after the screening of his film in Caochangdi.
Xie Lina was the first student to make a feature-length documentary in my class at the New Media Department of the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou. After graduation, she came to Caochangdi to “make a documentary”. Three years later, she left Caochangdi empty-handed. It was unforgettable for her and for me. “In the next pages of “Notes on the Missing People”, I’ll be writing about the people I met during my classes at the Academy and in Caochangdi for the documentary. I have to find out the cause of the “disappearance”.
In October 2008, the Caochangdi Crossover Festival began. Wang Hongjun came back to Caochangdi with new footage. After the Crossover he stayed in Caochangdi to edit the film. At the end of the year, the film came out. The title of the film was “Dr. Jia’s 100 Patients”. Here are the notes I wrote after watching the film.
Wang Hongjun is now back in his county town of Jinhu. He should continue filming at Dr. Jia’s clinic. One after another, patients walked into his shots.
Wang Hongjun, born in the early 1980s, was born and raised in Jinhu County, Jiangsu Province. “I had never been to Jinhu County before and had never heard of it. Wang Hongjun and I would never have met. According to him, he was in the army at the age of 18, and when he returned from the army he attended some film courses, including the Nanjing Arts Institute and the Chinese Academy of Opera. I guess Wang Hongjun’s original artistic dream was to be a film director, and he wouldn’t have been to Caochangdi and met me in the usual way. But because of the 2008 “Caochangdi May” event, the “Youth Documentary Creation Training Workshop” was held. Wang Hongjun and Caochangdi and I met.
Back in late 2005, when the second Beijing Caochangdi short films by ten village participants was completed, nine of the ten villagers held a spontaneous discussion at the Giant Dragon Hotel where they lived. The central topic was how they felt about participating in the project? Some said they were satisfied, some said they had regrets, and some said they had opinions. Some said they regretted the outcome of the film because they could not operate the computer to edit it and the editor helped them. I was also mentioned, saying that I was afraid of being “exposed” because I did not agree with the editing of some of the material that dealt with the “dark side” of the village. The authentic voices of the village participants were silenced. The discussions of the nine villagers were filmed and recorded by the participants on site. When it came to what to do with this live discussion, one opinion was to show me the tapes and one opinion was to show them to everyone at the screening that night. The two opinions were tied and it was decided to take a vote. There were two votes in favour of the second option, with the majority agreeing to give me the tapes.
A month later I went to the villages of five village participants in Shandong, Zhejiang, Hunan and Guangxi to do a ‘field coaching shoot’. The Agricultural Science Institute from Guangxi was the last stop in the village. I followed Nongke that day as he ploughed the fields and took a break to sit and chat with him (my camera was propped up between me and him to record our conversation).
When the idea of writing “The Missing” was confirmed, a list of names emerged. Nongke was one of them. When I was ready to start writing, Nongke automatically came first. Among the list of “missing people” in my head, Nongke is the one that I know the least through a ten-minute short film of his. Nongke is nearly ten years older than me, Zhuang ethnicity, living in a village in Long’an County, Guangxi, and working as a farmer. We met and spent time together four times between October 2005 and December 2006. That encounter with Nongke had a huge impact on me (from filmmaking to life). I think that’s the main reason why I wanted to write about Nongke and put it first.
The “Reading Material” workshop went to 19 rounds and my “Reading Material” notes reached “33”, which is a number worth celebrating. The “Reading Material” workshop started on April 8, and went through 19 rounds per week for over 100 days. My notes on “reading material” averaged about three days. This is what I got from the workshop.
The reading material workshop started in early April, once a week for almost 3 months. We are now on our sixteenth round, a slow and delicate process, simmering with a light fire. My experience is that we are no longer limited to “picture content”, “visual effects”, “what we see is what we see”, or just the immediate feelings and thoughts that are evoked. Our ‘reading’ of the material is becoming more and more refined.
“To state” is a verb I like to use in the context of “real image creation”. From the beginning of the material to the composition of the image, “to state” is one of the most basic, solid, reliable and potentially meaningful “actions”. To state a fact, calmly and with certainty.
In the third round of the “Reading Material” workshop, when we were discussing the filming of the villagers talking about the “American epidemic”, I said that I felt the “timidity” of the footage of Xiao Shuang (the word I used at the time was “panic”). I also mentioned a sense of “panic” in the first clip of Wei Xuan’s footageof out-of-towners denied permission to cross the border in mourning.
The third segment of video footage taken by Hu Tao for his grandparents’ tomb restoration was shown at the workshop. This includes Hu Tao explaining the design to his grandmother, the family carrying bricks up the hill and the ground breaking ceremony. Hu Tao’s filming of the tomb construction will continue, filming every aspect of the construction until it is completed. From what I know about Hu Tao’s filming, he would have filmed the whole process of tomb restoration and would not have missed any part in between.
Eleven filmmakers in the “Reading Material” workshop showcased their footage. I felt, when put them together, it led to a pathway that pointed to “survival”, or in layman’s terms, “staying alive”.
This material reading note is about the ‘big face’ (close-up) in three filmmakers’ footage. A face that fills the frame, talking or not talking. How much this face can tell us (or how much we can read) depends on the intention of the photographer and the perception of the ‘reader’. The former and the latter are 50/50.
Another example of irritation in the reading material workshop was Gao Ang’s material, a clip of my grandfather’s family eating with narration. I said at the time that I was disturbed, but I was disturbed “so badly” that I could not concentrate on any of the details of the meal that interested me.
Wu Wenguang’s Film Notes 60: Reading Material 1: Intuition → Land, a white dog and the intuition of reality
After 18 rounds of “reading material” workshops, I was stimulated by the fact that the reading of material still needs to be based on direct viewing (visual perception) of the images (including sound) themselves.
The basic content and composition of the film is that of an 86-year-old man named Li, sitting by the fire in his house, roasting a fire. He remains in this position throughout the film (occasionally moving his body or fiddling with the coals with a poker), and the room is furnished with almost nothing else but a square table (with a row of empty wine bottles prominently displayed on it) and a few bags of grain piled up against the wall, a typical scene of the daily life of a lonely old man. There is a portrait of a great man on the front wall of the house.
It is important to describe this scene because it is a key component of the film. An old man recounts his life in the company of a portrait of a great man.
This is Mengqi’s seventh work in the village of ’47km’, her seventh ’47km story’ since she first set foot in the same village in 2010 and has returned for seven consecutive winters. It is not easy for an author to keep returning to the same village for seven years. What is even more difficult, of course, is to see how the stories told each year change and unfold in depth.
When Zhang Mengqi returns to the village this year, a girl called Fang Yuan enters her narrative. I say “formally” because she has been touched by Mengqi’s words and her camera for several years before. Twenty years old with two children, it is the so-called cruelty of a village girl’s life. Is this also some kind of a “muddled day”?
Zhang Huancai, male, born in 1960, is a villager from Shijiazhai Village, Lantian County, Xi’an City, Shaanxi Province, and participated in the villagers’ image project of Caochangdi Workstation in 2005 as one of the 10 villagers’ authors. At that time he was 45 years old, middle-aged, turning 50. Before this, Zhang Huancai was a typical rural literary youth and literary middle-aged hard-working man. He graduated from high school and did not go to university. He makes a living by farming and also working outside, in coal mines, cotton fields, freight yards, construction sites, renovation …… all heavy labour work. Until now, Zhang Huancai, who has already made two feature-length documentaries, has been to those elegant art venues in Beijing as a filmmaker, as well as to places like CUHK, Peking University, Yunnan University, Shenzhen He Xiangning Art Museum, and the South of the Clouds Documentary Film Festival, together with his own films. But during the farming season, he often has to go to a labour market in Xi’an for making money for his children: a son who is away at university and a daughter who is in high school.
Jia Zhitan, male, born in 1951, is the oldest of the three male villagers who still continue to make films, at the age of 58. He often refers to himself as “nearly 60 years old” and has been known as Old Jia since he entered the Villagers’ Image Project.
Wu Wenguang’s Film Notes 54: Behind “Unnatural Death” — Zhang Mengqi, Self-Portrait: The Death of 47km
Self-Portrait: The Death of 47 Kilometres is Zhang Mengqi’s sixth film into the Folk Memory Project, and the fifth film she has made back in her father’s birth village. For a filmmaker who keeps returning to the same village every year, a great challenge that usually comes in the third year is –
What is the reason to keep going? What is the motivation?
In My Village 2007, the second documentary by Shandong villager filmmaker Wang Wei, there is this shot. A field of corn turning yellow after autumn, with a dirt road beside it. The shot is taken from a small slope at the entrance to his chicken farm (at the edge of the village), looking out into the distance. This type of shot is often seen in Wang Wei’s films, but the content of the picture varies depending on the season, weather or morning and evening. It can be interpreted as part of the filmmaker’s normal routine: after feeding the chickens or eating a meal, he takes a few steps to this spot. At some point, a DV camera will be brought up to take a shot.
Villager filmmaker Zhang Huancai’s new film, My Village 2008, is finished. I watched it on the first day of 2010. It is four hours long. After Huancai had made the first cut in May 2009, I watched it once, along with Lao Jia, the three of us. Huancai was “translating” the dialect of the people in the film. Now that I’ve seen the subtitled version, it’s significantly easier to understand the film. Two 4-hour viewings for a total of 8 hours, with a 7-month gap between them. I crossed over to Huancai’s life and his village in 2008 twice in 2009.
The final cut of Shao Yuzhen’s new film was screened in Qinjiatun on October 1. Shao Yuzhen, who lives in the village of Shaziying in Shunyi, Beijing, has been involved in the Villagers’ Video Project since 2005, when she took up DV and completed her first short film, I Shoot My Village, at the age of 55. Since then, she has continued filming in the village and by 2012, she had completed five feature-length documentaries under the title “My Village for XX Years”.
When Jia Zhitan first became involved in the Villagers’ Image Project, his focus was on the question of whether he wanted to make films like “focus interview” of state-run television, and whether he wanted to give the film to CCTV. After completing his first short documentary, The Quarry, he was able to move past these “mainstream” questions. In the following three years he completed three feature-length documentaries, My Village 2006, My Village 2007 and My Village 2008, in succession. During the shooting of these three films, Lao Jia jumped from the “mainstream” to the other extreme and became “non-mainstream”, or even more than “non-mainstream”.
Let me start with one of the artists I admire and his work: Hsieh Teh-Ching and One Year. Hsieh Teh-Ching, a Taiwanese, was born in the same year as Sister Shao in 1950, and in the 1970s he made his way to New York in a special way (as a crew member of an ocean liner docking in the United States and jumping overboard to enter the country). Hsieh’s performance art works “One Year” include imprisoning himself in a cage for a year, chaining himself to a woman (who is also an artist) for a year, and clocking in every hour for a year.
“Getting Through” is from the “video diary” I started in 2020. The first film made is called “Surviving Chapter 1: The Siege”, which was recorded from late January to late February 2020 when I was stranded alone in my home in Kunming due to the pandemic. This film can be seen as an account of the “2020” that was about to pass. It is also an accident in my 30 years of video production. Almost every film I have made in the last 10 years (after 2010) has been an ‘accident’. “Getting Through” is the accident of accidents, i.e. it was made in a state of ‘least creative mind’.
It was only a few days into 2018 when I suddenly heard that Wong Ain-ling had passed away. Wong was a friend from Hong Kong who I knew for almost 30 years. She would have been about my age, early 60s. She was gone just like that.
Yesterday evening (6 July), the second cut of Hu Tao’s film ‘Favour’ was screened at a discussion workshop. Hu Tao’s film was made last year and had a first cut, but he didn’t think it was good enough. This year, the second cut was a revision of the first cut (first draft). Whether it’s a big change, a medium change or a small change, it’s a continuous process of creating a film. I’ll put the revisions to the film about Hu Tao in this series of notes, entitled “Revisions”. I expect to write a number of articles on this subject, as ‘revision’ is, after all, a sensitive point of ‘creation and continuity’, involving many issues of creation.
In 2017, I started to experiment with my video creation under the title of “autobiography”. The term “autobiography” does not necessarily mean “memoir” or “self-reflection”. I prefer to understand it as a kind of attitude and a way of doing things.
In 2017, I started to experiment with my video creation under the title of “autobiography”. The term “autobiography” does not necessarily mean “memoir” or “self-reflection”. I prefer to understand it as a kind of attitude and a way of doing things.
The first draft of the film “Autobiography: The Struggle” was produced like the ground was broken. Only can I understand the struggle and torment of the process. This kind of creation is really a process of making a hole. Finally, I poked my head out of what I thought was a hole. It is full of emotions.
In my previous notes on “Facing”, I asked “why (must) I face”. This is a question that contains a certain “way of being”, at least for me personally. Otherwise it is just “living a sloppy life”.
It took me three days to make the opening of the new film (about three minutes), using material from an interview I did with my mother. I interviewed my mother a total of two times when she was alive. The first time was in 1994. It was a taped interview made for the book about my father. The second time was in 1999. It was a video interview made for the same purpose. In both interviews my mother talked about my birth. What surprised me was that in the first interview my mother told me a “secret”. The reason for my surprise was that my mother had told me this untold story.
Wu Wenguang’s Film Notes 39: Talking is the Road – Preface to “Walking on Earth: Follow-up Interviews and Survey Report on Contemporary Chinese Documentarians”
”Talking is the Road”: I use these words that I like to describe Li Xiaofeng and Jia Kai’s book Walking on Earth: Follow-up Interviews and Survey Reports on Contemporary Chinese Documentarians. The book consists of two parts: “follow-up interviews” and “survey reports”. As I understand it, the former is “paving the way”, paving a road with conversations, introducing documentary filmmakers to the reader. The latter is similar to a “laboratory”, where the documentarians’ current existence, their creative trajectory, the extension or termination of their possibilities, as well as the emotions and hopes that accompany them. In the latter case, in my personal experience, this is the first time I have read such a “survey” that combine documentarians outside the system (independent production) and inside the system.
Seven mainland documentaries have been selected for the 2018 Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival (TIDF): Lone Existence (dir. Sha Qing), Expressionism (dir. Xu Ruotao), Holly Bible 2 (dir. Li Hongqi), The Days 3 (dir. Wei Xiaobo), Turtle ROck (dir. Xiao Xiao), Shang Ajia (dir. Jin Jiang) and Dumb Men (dir. Hu Tao).
Another Year can be introduced in one sentence: 13-meals time in a year for a working family in Wuhan. In terms of image composition, it is 13 fixed shots in the order of January to December, with the last one rotating back to the beginning of the following year.
Before I talk about the film, I’d like to tell you about Gu Tao, with whom I had an encounter 18 years ago. In 2000, when I was back in Kunming, I was contacted by a man from a local radio station who said he was an evening programmer with a program on music and reading, and wanted to ask me to do a program. This was the first radio programme in China to invite me to “talk on the radio”. I was curious about the person who contacted me. He was Gu Tao, in his early 20s at the time, with a very young face, and he said to me that he knew I did documentaries. But he had not seen them and only had read my documentary column in the then Book City magazine. He invited me to do a programme because of my writing.
Liu Xiaolei sent a link to Japanese director Sako Makoto’s film “Self and Others” to the Qinjiatun group. I immediately watched it, because Sako is really an old friend. I didn’t know this film. So I watched it and wrote down some impromptu thoughts.
Notes on “Creation and Continuity”, which I started writing last year, concerns both the creation of the new director’s debut feature and “creative intensity and precision” (not just “creative continuity”). It is about the “creative vitality” of the director (not just “creative continuity”). These notes are not about theories and concepts, nor do I “analyse the business cards” of the masters (not my speciality or interest), but are only about the creative dynamics and trajectory of “fellow travellers” (not a “narrow vision”, just limited time and energy).
The final screening of Shao Yuzhen’s new film in Qinjiatun took place on 1st of October. Shao Yuzhen, who lives in the village of Shaziying in Shunyi, Beijing, has been involved in the Villagers’ Video Project since 2005, when she took up DV and completed her first short film, I Shoot My Village, at the age of 55. Since then, she has continued filming in the village and by 2012, she had completed five feature-length documentaries under the title “My Village for XX Years”.
Post-screening – Written after the Caochangdi Weekend Online Bilibili Streaming on 24 September 2021
On Friday night, 24th September, it was the turn of my film Investigating My Father to be the Caochangdi Weekend live broadcast on Bilibili. The highest audience figure for the live screening was 2,150 people (a Bilibili record). For the post-screening exchange we gathered in our usual venue, the Tencent conference room (the maximum number of participants was 68). After host Mengqi’s opening remarks paved the way for my appearance, the first thing I said was, “Creation is bliss”.
Yanzi wrote a long email, confessing her inner creative struggle, conflicts, and choices. I had not heard from Yanzi in the past month; I understood that she was thinking things over. Immediately after reading the email I felt regret that Yanzi might give up on her first film, which was nearing completion.
I use this slightly lengthy subheading to show my state of mind. During my period in the village when I returned at the beginning of the winter, the old people, in their memories and descriptions of the current situation, sent by Mengqi from 47km, talked of “ruins”. This could be considered a kind of “realist epistemology”. One of the effects of this is to have enough knowledge and understanding of what has happened before and what is happening now, including what might happen in the future, to ensure that you won’t feel calm. But at least you won’t get scared, break out in a cold sweat, get discouraged and think it’s the end of the world.
Zhang Mengqi’s notes on the village, ‘Jiangjiawan: Rereading Memories’, begins with a transcription of an interview from six years ago (2012), quoting the interviewee, Wang, talking about his situation at the time of ‘Land Reform’. He was seven or eight years old, his parents had passed away, he was an orphan, and he lived with his grandmother and uncle.
I have been fortunate enough to know certain people over the course of my life, and Zhang Huancai is one of these. I’m lucky that Huancai is a young man from Shijiazhai, Shaanxi Province, who has had raging literary ambitions since he was in high school, who lives in the countryside, and, once the camera was in his hands, immediately held on to it, held his breath, and focused on the surrounding villagers, including his own wife. In eight years he has produced the six feature-length films that make up the “My Village” series. My work turned a corner in 2010 due to various influences, one of which was the “village videos” of Huancai.
I finished Investigating My Father in 2016. It was screened in Songzhuang, Beijing in mid-April the following year. The screening took place on a Saturday afternoon. At a time when independent video screenings were becoming scarce, Songzhuang was still a stronghold. I felt this screening was “an event”, primarily because I had a new film and had finally found in this environment a place to meet the audience.
Women have a natural affinity with the ‘personal image’, which belongs to them first and foremost. But ‘the brightest are easily defiled’. But is it true that the sensitive and delicate women who are born with creative qualities are also fragile and easily broken? Is this the case?
Returning to the question at the beginning of the essay, “What is fiction?” For us, whether “video writing”, or “video prose”, or “video fiction” – there is no answer.
“Fiction”, which is nothing, is everything. An excerpt from a saying about fiction (one I like): fiction is the pushing of the unspeakable to the extreme.
I am increasingly of the opinion (at least in the last 15 years) that it is better to pursue “personal images”than to talk about “independent images”. The so-called independent image (once called “underground cinema”, as I experienced it in the 1990s) is, to put it bluntly, a kind of ideological trademark (a veneer) that some people are willing to use (a discursive habit, which I see as academic laziness, of using “underground”, “banned”, “power of resistance”, etc. The title of my speech for a seminar on the anniversary of some independent film festival in China was, “Independence is a verb”).
Zhang Mengqi’s Viewing Material : Scenes of ‘Old Man He’ is three scenes in the life of an old man recovering from a serious illness in the village of 47 Kilometres. After watching it, I felt like writing something as a follow up, as a “reflection” on viewing this filmmaker’s work.
As 2016 ends, it’s time for the Folk Memory Project to start its winter filming. Since the summer of 2010, when the Folk Memory Project started, winter is a time for participants to return to their villages to film, with 2017 being the seventh of these winters.
My experience of “documentary filmmaking” started with “finding subject matter” – Story? Characters? Politics? Coverage? Meaning? Novelty? Spectacle? A “Chinese style”? “One shot, ten rings”? Put it this way: my entire documentary journey across the 1990s was a string of these kinds of stories—in short, a “documentary mud pond or quagmire”. I dare not speak for other documentarians, only for myself.
“Caochangdi’s Tenth Weekend Screening” was Yu Shuang’s new film Old Sister of Huangpotan. After the screening, discussion was enthusiastic, with a variety of perspectives on the material. In my personal opinion, this is a rare occurrence since the “weekend screening discussions” started. Is this the effect of ten straight sessions of the “Caochangdi Weekend screenings” on Bilibili (ten weekends from the end of January to now)?”
After watching the first cut of Lolo’s first film Lolo’s Fear, I was thinking about a question: is it possible for the word ‘Lolo’ to be converted from a simple name to a special reference, such as ‘Lolo’s Fear’ (an emotion that cannot be avoided in a crisis), ‘Lolo’s flying’ (crossing over barriers and obstacles), and ‘Lolo’s…’. As an extension of this, could the word ‘Lolo’ become a term exclusive to creatives?
Wu Wenguang’s Film Notes 16: A Legend – Watching the First Cut of Yu Shuang’s New Film The Old Sister of Huangpotan
I mentioned in my notes that “the film Huangpotan shows us an unimaginable secret, a legend called Huangpotan Village in Shaoxing, Jiangnan”. The word “legend” makes me feel compelled to write some notes. Tomorrow night, our dear Yu Shuang will show her Old Sister of Huangpotan (I love the title to death). I have the urge to write an article to welcome this beautiful moment.
My previous notes, “Footage Review Workshop”, were a review of the Folk Memory Project in 2020. These notes, “Editing Team”, are a second review of last year’s work. I can’t wait to review the “editing team”, our “major invention” this year! In our creative group of independent directors, we explore how to work and support one another more effectively (for example, with editing). The emergence of the “editing team” is really amazing!
One of the main activities of the Folk Memory Project group over 2020 was the “footage review” workshop. As I said before, this was the first time we had done “footage review” as a workshop. Thinking about it, maybe this was the first time ever in the world. It’s not that I’m keen to “create” and pursue “firsts”. The fact is, who in the world would do this: a group of people, one by one, watching, discussing, and analysing huge volumes of inconsequential footage once a week for five months.
Gao Ang participated in the workshop discussion after watching the third version of Jiaoxing Village in June last year. The difference between the third and first versions is that the first is about “land rotation”, that is, the relationship and changes between rural land ownership and management rights, a huge and complex current rural issue. As I understand it, this is a typical case of the “topic first” or “seizing your topic” documentary filmmaking method. I have an idea (or find an issue) and it fits (or is close to) my own understanding of and judgment about society, so I start to work on it (fieldwork, interview, data collection and then shooting, etc.).
Today is 11 January 2021. This is the eighth article of the new year. Writing three articles in eleven days is in line with my intentions and my expectations of myself. I live with a group of people who have things to write and want to interact with one another through writing. 360 articles a year isn’t enough. I believe that thought is a knife which needs to be sharpened. Otherwise, it becomes dull and rusty without being aware that it cannot cut anything. My experience is, the best way to keep sharp is by writing.
This article is about our ‘weekend screenings’, which start with Xiaobo’s Farewell My 19 this Friday [ed. note: 9 January 2021]. It’s worth noting (recording) our new activities for 2021.
There is an editing software called Premiere. Many people probably know it and use it. I am a long-time user of Premiere, starting with version 1.0 in 1988. That was probably the earliest version of Premiere. I now recall how I felt when I first used it. You could describe it as a kind of “ecstasy”, like I had finally come across a spring of water in the desert.
When image writing is carried out in the workshop, what does constitute the content?
My opinion has always been that creativity cannot be taught. However, you can learn and exchange ideas to create.
Workshops are a good way. Therefore, I have always called my teaching on image creation at universities, film festivals or art institutions “workshops” rather than “courses.”
In the “warm-up talk” for the Image Writing workshop, I talked about “direction” and “intention” and realised that this is a topic that cannot be overlooked. The practice and discussion of “image writing” carried out at a specific time and place is indicative. It’s rooted in a specific context. […] In other words, it’s not a general concept, it’s not generalisable, nor is it a universal truth. It is an action embodied by the Folk Memory Project. This is “pathway”.
Following the previous notes which focus on “intention”, I will talk about “direction”, that is, what kind of “unintended” works may grow out of “image writing”.
The “Image Production” workshop is one of the creative trainings conducted by the Folk Memory Project group of Caochangdi Workstation. A new round of workshops will start in January 2021, with the theme “Image Writing”.
“Shao Images” was established because “Shao Yuzhen’s way of filming determines the composition of the film”. Her so-called “editing” means simply putting original footage through editing software.
At the beginning of the film Self-Portrait with Three Women, a dancer holding a flashlight walks into the rehearsal hall. In the next scene, the camera captures the dancer’s face through her legs. She is saying: ‘This is my first dance work and a work related to myself. The name of the work is Self Portrait.’
I have never watched Sha Qing’s previous films. Lone Existence is the first one I watched. It belongs to the kind of bold work which does not conform to “characters”, “events” and “conflicts” in conventional documentaries. “Story” is completely unbounded and in a style of self-talking.
Caochangdi Workstation launched China Village Documentary Project in 2005. Ten villager filmmakers from nine provinces were selected from the applications and each completed a film about their villages on their own. By 2010, Shao Yuzhen, Jia Zhitan, Zhang Huancai, and Wang Wei have been shooting, and each of them has completed three feature films.
Around 2000, I returned to Kunming, bought a house outside the city, and took my mother to live there. The old house in the city has been vacant from then on. In the summer of 2007, my 88-year-old mother passed away. After taking care of my mother’s funeral, I returned to my hometown at No. 6 Shangyi Street. I went back to the old house to look for the proof of grave ownership of my father who died 18 years ago and to arrange joint tomb for my parents.