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Mahjong: New Independent Chinese Cinema

November 6, 2008 - November 22, 2008

The Orphan of Anyang, November 22

The newest generation of Chinese filmmakers has come of age in a world drastically different from that of their predecessors like Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige, who, even while fighting with state bureaucracies, were still funded by them. In the 1990s, the Chinese government ended most centrally planned, state-financed filmmaking; it took until the twenty-first century for the “new” Chinese film industry to finally find its footing, with a mixture of big-budget, privately financed studio spectacles and low-cost digital independents.

This series presents the key representatives of China’s twenty-first-century independent film scene, working between the cracks of private-studio commerce and a state system that now exists only as a censorship tool. Well versed in contemporary and classical cinema movements (just peruse China’s pirate DVD malls for a quick and cheap film-school education), many of these new artists are now found scattered throughout the country; whereas before, most filmmaking emerged from the state hub of Beijing, now cinema blossoms everywhere, from the countryside (Little Moth; Grain in Ear) to atmospheric old towns like Anyang (The Orphan of Anyang) and Chongqing (Bliss). And unlike their Fifth Generation predecessors, these new directors don’t have to take refuge in feudal allegories or colorful spectacles; they address China’s present-day problems and failures: unemployment, environmental collapse, and state corruption, and the more universal concerns of loneliness, love, and family.

An additional program, Collisions in Forms: Experimental Videos from Shanghai and Beijing, is presented in the series Alternative Visions. New Independent Chinese Cinema is presented in conjunction with the BAM exhibition Mahjong: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Sigg Collection.

Jason Sanders
Associate Film Notes Writer

Thursday, November 6, 2008
6:30 p.m. Little Moth
A couple buys a paralyzed girl to beg for them in this bracing critique of contemporary China.

Thursday, November 6, 2008
8:30 p.m. Oxhide
Two parents, one daughter, one cramped apartment, one video camera, and 23 takes. “The most innovative Chinese film since Xiao Wu.”—London Film Festival. Repeated on November 8.

Saturday, November 8, 2008
6:30 p.m. Oxhide
See November 6.

Saturday, November 8, 2008
8:40 p.m. Uniform
A listless young tailor “borrows” a police uniform and finds his life looking up. A canny blend of urban realism and Gogolian satire.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008
7:00 p.m. Fuck Cinema
The founding figure of independent Chinese documentary, Wu Wenguang, returns with this look at the burgeoning Chinese film industry. The title says it all.

Saturday, November 15, 2008
8:40 p.m. The Red Detachment of Women
The 1970 ballet version: “This showpiece of the Cultural Revolution now functions as a virtual documentary of an ideological moment.”—Time Out

Sunday, November 16, 2008
5:15 p.m. Bliss
The misty city of Chongqing provides the atmospheric setting for this family drama.

Thursday, November 20, 2008
7:00 p.m. The Other Half
One woman’s personal dilemmas form the basis of this razor-sharp, frequently hilarious dissection of China’s rising misfortunes, especially as suffered by its “other half,” women.

Saturday, November 22, 2008
6:30 p.m. Bliss
See November 16.

Saturday, November 22, 2008
8:15 p.m. Grain in Ear
This deadpan “melodrama with a social conscience” (Tony Rayns), a prizewinner at Cannes, portrays a Chinese-Korean woman, her brief loves, her little son, and her prostitute neighbors.

Series curated by Kathy Geritz and Susan Oxtoby in consultation with Chinese cinema authority Bérénice Reynaud, California Institute of the Arts. Presented in conjunction with the Center for Asian American Media, San Francisco, and the Center for Chinese Studies at UC Berkeley.