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EMPEROR VISITS THE HELL
唐皇游地府
Tang huang you difu

Directed by Li Luo
2012, 67 min, digital.
In Chinese with English subtitles.

Winner of the 2012 Vancouver International Film Festival’s Dragons & Tigers Prize, this is a quietly astonishing tour de force that hinges on a lovely conceit: relocating to the present day the famous story of the Tang dynasty Emperor Taizong’s visit to the underworld. Shot in elegant, black-and-white long takes, the film spins a tale of a local river god, the Dragon King, who, feuding with a fortune teller, alters the weather without authorization and is condemned to death. When the Emperor fails to commute the god’s sentence, otherworldly retribution is swift: he is summoned to Hell. Li’s audacious use of multiple levels of storytelling and filmmaking craftily and joyously subverts every authority around.

Female-Directors

FEMALE DIRECTORS
女导演
Nü daoyan

Directed by Yang Mingming
2012, 43 min, digital.
In Chinese with English subtitles.

Two brilliant young women, art school graduates with deliciously profane vocabularies and supreme confidence, talk sex, cinema, and power, as they wield their shared video camera like a scalpel. Yang Mingming’s superb debut is hilarious, moving, and subversive: is it documentary or fiction, or something new that violates both modes with gleeful abandon?

Cut-Out-the-Eyes

CUT OUT THE EYES
挖眼睛
Wa yanjing

Directed by Xu Tong
2014, 80 min, digital.
In Chinese with English subtitles.

Er Housheng is a blind musician who travels Inner Mongolia with his lover/partner Liu Lanlan performing the saucy, sensationally bawdy form of musical duet comedy called er ren tai. Er’s female audiences are particularly enthralled with his combination of sensuality, Rabelaisian earthiness, and frankly socially subversive lyrics. Director Xu’s specialty is to train his piercingly observant documentary camera — intimate and complicit, rather than coldly objective —  on unique Chinese characters like Er, using them to probe deep beneath the surface of China’s clash of rural traditions with its urbanizing contemporaneity. The result is, on one hand, an enthralling ethnographic showpiece; but it’s at its core a passionate and frenzied psycho-drama of lust, violence, and genius.

RiverOfLife

THE RIVER OF LIFE
生命的河流
Shengming de heliu

Directed by Yang Pingdao
2014, 101 min, digital.
In Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese with English subtitles.

Yang Pingdao is one of China’s most exciting emerging filmmakers. His astonishingly creative camera eye brings unexpected beauty to his new feature length film. Using an innovative structure, based on the distinctive texture of family memory through space and time, Yang invents something poised delicately between fiction and documentary to capture crystallized moments in his family history, to recreate in cinematic form its emotional weight and variety, woven around the life and death of his grandmother, and the birth of his child. In order to combine extended family chronicle, implicit national history, and intimate soul-bearing autobiography, Yang employs gentle formal experimentation to invent new cinematic pathways.  Opening film and prize winner of BIFF 2014.

Spark1

SPARK
星火
Xinghuo

Directed by Hu Jie
2014, 101 min, digital.
In Chinese with English subtitles.

Probably China’s most important unofficial historian-filmmaker, Hu Jie documents with his camera episodes that Chinese official history, for now, ignores. Spark was an underground magazine published in 1960 by four young intellectuals who wanted to expose the devastating famine caused by Mao’s Great Leap Forward, a horrendous period of national suffering that is still unmentioned in China’s history textbooks today. This is filmmaking as urgent historical investigation: with a shoestring budget Hu combines years of research, and a knack for getting people to talk without fear about the most taboo subjects in China’s recent past. His alternative oral history approach knits together courageous and frequently moving interviews with the magazine’s surviving editor, supporters, and readers, who were ready to sacrifice themselves to alert their countrymen to unprecedented disaster.

IMG_1236FOUR WAYS TO DIE IN MY HOMETOWN
我故乡的四种死亡方式
Wo guxiangde si zhong siwang fangshi

Directed by Chai Chunya
2012, 90 min, digital.
In Gansu dialect with English subtitles.

A four-part fiction film that’s as much poetry as it is narrative, first-time filmmaker Chai Chunya’s gorgeous work evokes four characters – a poet, a searcher, a puppet master, and a shaman – each with intense, mystical, deeply-rooted spiritual links to the land (the film was shot in and around Gansu province) mediated by the four elemental symbols: earth, water, fire, and wind. The film’s logic is associative, dreamlike; Chai builds up a series of striking tableaux, hypnotically suggestive and pictorially spectacular. Two young women lose a camel, then a father. A retired shadow puppeteer meets a gun-toting tree thief. Storytellers and shamans evoke a lost spiritual world that Chai films back to life in spectacular visual motifs whose meanings are intuited, like deeply felt communal memories.

Peoples Park

PEOPLE’S PARK
人民公园
Renmin gongyuan

Directed by J.P. Sniadecki & Libbie Cohn
2012, 78 min, digital.
In Sichuanese and Mandarin Chinese.

This is an experimental, structuralist documentary shot in People’s Park, Chengdu, Sichuan, in one single, bravura take lasting 75 minutes by two young American directors. Their camera captures the fullness of Chinese urban leisure life. As the camera pans side to side and glides relentlessly forward through the park, it catches hundreds of Chinese urbanites out for fun, relaxation, socializing, and a certain kind of freedom: eating, strolling, singing, practicing calligraphy, and watching each other. Watching becomes dancing, as the film slowly gathers an ecstatic, trance-like groove, building to a rapturous climax, as people, movement, music, image, and sound mix together: this is as close to pure pleasure as cinema gets.

Tromsø International Film Festival
Storgata 93 b, 9008 Tromsø
Norway

I believe that seeing is the beginning of change. I hope that my documentaries provide people with food for thought. Start from changing a prejudice, and you could end up even changing an entire world.

My documentaries depict the lowest rungs of Chinese society, the situation of people leading vagrant lives. Because they are prostitutes, petty thieves, or wandering performers, they might appear beneath mention. But their extremely tragic condition and their stories, combining feelings of grief and joy, compel people to reflect on the injustice and coarseness of our society. We have no choice but to face squarely the evil that originates in the depths of human nature.

Xu Tong (Cut Out the Eyes)

CINEMA ON THE EDGE