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Chinese Independent Documentary Series

Presented by the UCLA Center for Chinese Studies and the REEL CHINA Documentary Biennial

Thursday, January 31, 2008
7:00 PM - 10:00 PM
2534 Melnitz Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095

The Hurricane, dir. Duan Jinchuan and Jiang Yue, 2005, 89m.
The Hurricane is a reinvestigation of the communist Land Reform (1946-1953) that started as a strategy to mobilize peasants to support the Communist Party in the civil war with the Nationalists (1946-49). This documentary, in the form of grassroots oral history, presents villagers in Northeast China, where the Land Reform was launched. The peasants speak from memory, giving accounts of manipulation, injustice, and cruelty.

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Organizers: Center for Chinese Studies, UCLA
                  REEL CHINA Documentary Biennial, New York

Independent Chinese documentary filmmaking has flourished for over a decade. Produced outside the official or commercial channels by dedicated individual filmmakers, these works—mostly in DV format—are valuable documents of alternative histories and life styles in contemporary China. For our series, we have selected documentaries—divided into five categories (history, education, documentary ethics, minorities, women and gender)—that are not only recent productions but also offer a rich, varied, up-to-date, and intimate view of contemporary China. By presenting exemplary works on various, sometimes controversial topics in different styles, we hope to stimulate discussions of not only the contents of the documentaries but the process, and sometimes the problems, of documentary filmmaking (and by extension history writing) itself.


Time: Thursdays, 7:00pm


Jan. 31, 2008:  The Hurricane
Feb. 7, 2008:    The Other Bank
Feb. 14, 2008:  Using
Feb. 21, 2008: Senior Year;  and We Are the … of Communism
Feb. 28, 2008: Gongbu’s Happy Life; and Blossoming in the Wind
March 6, 2008: Women’s Fifty Minutes; and Mei Mei

Venue: 2534 Melnitz Hall, UCLA

Admission: FREE

Screening Format: all films will be in DVD format with English subtitles.

Source of films:
• REEL CHINA Documentary Biennial, New York.
• Zero Channel Media Co., Beijing.
• Director Zhou Hao.

Preliminary Screening Program


The Hurricane, dir. Duan Jinchuan and Jiang Yue, 2005, 89m.
The Hurricane is a reinvestigation of the communist Land Reform (1946-1953) that started as a strategy to mobilize peasants to support the Communist Party in the civil war with the Nationalists (1946-49). This documentary, in the form of grassroots oral history, presents villagers in Northeast China, where the Land Reform was launched. The peasants speak from memory, giving accounts of manipulation, injustice, and cruelty.

Gai Shanxi and Her Sisters, dir. Ban Zhongyi, 2004, 130m. [TBA because of length]
This is the story of the courageous struggle of a Chinese comfort woman. The film focuses on the ordeal of Gai Shanxi (this is actually her nickname, which means “No. 1 beauty of Shanxi”), a peasant woman in Shanxi Province who took part in the resistance against the Japanese. Because of her good looks, she was twice held captive in the Japanese stronghold where she was brutally raped. Regardless of her own safety, she twice offered her body in order to protect other girls from her village. The ravages wrecked upon her by the Japanese left her barren and scorned by others after the war. Unhappy in her marriage and family life and suffering from poor health, she could no longer bear the psychological as well as physical pain, so she took her own life. When the filmmaker visited Shanxi Province, Gai Shanxi was already dead. Her story is told through the testimonies of other former comfort women, the village elders, and former Japanese soldiers.

Documentary Ethics

The Other Bank, dir. Jiang Yue, 1994, 140 min.
This is a documentary about a group of unusual actors, their training, their groundbreaking performances in contemporary Chinese theater, and what happened to them. In early spring of 1993, independent artist Mou Sen was invited by the Actors Exchange and Training Center of the Beijing Film Academy to take charge of an intensive, short-term performance workshop. More than thirty high school graduates from all over the country attended the workshop. Fourteen of them, who stay till the end of the training, performed The Other Bank: A Chinese Grammatical Discussion, a play written by Gao Xingjian (Nobel Prize Winner, 2000) and Yu Jian. The seven performances by the fourteen students stunned Beijing’s artistic and intellectual circles. These young actors were greeted with applause, flowers, and tears. The show was over. But where would these fourteen young people go? They chose to stay in Beijing. The reality they encountered was cruel. The dreams in the classrooms were broken. In the end, all the young actors left Beijing one after another. One student brought back two actor friends to his remote village in Hebei Province where he staged a theater piece they wrote together. The Black Bird that had Flown Over the Paradise. The filmmaker’s critical decision to shift his focus from the artists to the young peasant performers marks an important turning point at which independent Chinese documentary became critical of its intellectual advantage and instead tried to become closer to the grassroots.

Using, dir. Zhou Hao, 2007, 145m.
“Using” is the latest work by contemporary Chinese documentary filmmaker Zhou Hao. Shot over the last three years, the documentary follows the relationship between the filmmaker and two “friends” who were drug users in the city of Guangzhou. Apart from investigating at close range a dark and cruel layer of reality of contemporary Chinese society that has rarely been aired, the documentary is also provocative in baring the mutually using relationship between the filmmaker and the filmed subject.


Senior Year, dir. Zhou Hao, 2005, 95m.
In No.1 High School of Wuping County in western Fujian Province, seventy-eight high school seniors have only one chance to advance to higher education, that is through the annual national entrance exam. Eighty percent of the students in this school come from surrounding rural areas. Their parents tell them that if they don’t want to become farmers, the entrance exam to higher education is their only chance to change their lives. The documentary records the hardworking, high-pressured as well as lonely lives of a group of seventeen and eighteen-year-old Hakkas.  As one student puts it, “I can’t stand the idea of going through another senior year.”

We Are the . . . of Communism (aka The School That Disappeared), Cui Zi’en, 2007, 94m.
From summer to winter, the number of students in the Yuanhai migrant community school dropped from 720 to 16.  Some were kicked outside and had to temporarily attend class in a workshop and in the street, until even that was taken away. Those students, once happily gathered together, lost everything. Some dropped out from school and stayed at home, others moved to far away schools with high fees, and still others returned to school in their hometown with their parents. With the arrival of winter, students below the third grade could only attend class squeezed inside a small van. Classes for students from fourth to sixth grades were held in the teacher's home. In spite of this, and even when it turned very cold, students still ran to the school's main door to play and never ceased to regard the school as a big and happy fairyland.

Documentaries on the Minorities

Gongbu’s Happy Life, dir. Ji Dan, 1999, 82m.
This meditative documentary about the life of a Tibetan villager displays a sensitivity and understanding that the filmmaker herself gained from her three years of living in the Tibetan village.

Blossoming in the Wind, dir. Sun Yuelin, 2005, 60 mins.
As the debut work of the young filmmaker Sun Yueling, Blossoming in the Wind won the Committee Nomination Prize at the 2005 Yunnan Multi-culture Visual Forum/Festival. It is an intimate and personal record of a blissful pilgrimage by Rinpoche, a Tibetan Living Buddha. Traveling with several of his disciples and the filmmaker, Ripoche heads for a Tibetan sacred mountain in Deqing, Yunnan Province. Marching through sleet and snow, Ripoche spreads his joy and wisdom throughout the whole journey. Blue skies, white clouds, the tinkling of bells, the sound of footsteps, smiling faces, and singing voices all bask in the glow of the transparent sunshine, amidst the joyous festivities of daily life. Animals and humans alike traverse freely through the realms of the sacred land.

Women and Gender

Women’s Fifty Minutes, Shi Tou, 2005, 55m.
This experimental documentary is a compilation of various shots and impressions of the filmmaker’s trip to her girlfriend’s hometown as well as her daily wandering in Beijing. Through the impressionistic non-narrative, the filmmaker presents a deeply personal observation of women’s changing roles in traditional ceremonies in provincial China as well as in modern metropolitan life.

Mei Mei, dir. Gao Tian, 2005, 82 mins.
Mei Mei is a transvestite male actor who is eager to find his true love. He searches among gays and transvestites. In 2004 he finally meets a man of his match who also accepts Mei Mei as he is. They have a public wedding ceremony. Mei Mei is very confident about his marriage and his future. His friends throw a farewell party for him before he leaves for Shanghai where he and his love are to embark on a life together.  However, things are not as perfect as planned, and his marriage proves harder than expected. Finally Mei Mei comes back to Beijing. He feels embarrassed when running into old friends. Also, he runs into financial problems worse than ever before.


Cost : FREE

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