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.
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.