China is quite likely the only country in the world with three different distinctive federal governments: Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Each of these regions has a distinctly unique characteristic under the vast umbrella of Chinese culture. Rapid industrialization and the new realities of globalization in modern times have served to confuse and dislodge traditions from their usual place in society. Coping with drastic change is inevitable, yet many Chinese cling intensely to the essence of their cherished past. Here we present you with three different films from three different regions – three distinct voices…but one and the same heart.
Rice Distribution (Pingan Mi)
Tammy Cheung |Hong Kong | 2002 | Video | 34:00 | Colour | Canadian Premiere
Are you one of those avid enthusiasts who would line up at 4 a.m. for cinema or concert tickets? Would you fiercely chastise any intruders who tried to sneak ahead of you? Would you patiently wait for your “toilet token” (for re- admission into your hard-earned spot) after standing in line for several hours? Maybe you’ve been there; done that – but can you imagine yourself doing it again in your eighties? Probably not! So let us introduce you to this true event, which took place on Sep. 3rd, 2002.
The Chinese title Pingan Mi literally means Peace and Safety Rice. Every year during the Yu Lan Festival (Chinese ghost festival), there is a tradition of free rice hand-outs to believers – protecting them from ghosts who are said to be roaming everywhere hungrily. More than 8,200 people made up the queue – most of them seniors and disabled. Over a hundred police who witnessed and shared the believers’ convictions maintained order over the huge line-up.
Utilizing the documentary style of Frederick Wiseman, Tammy Cheung’s pure, observant camera recorded this event with sincerity and honesty. There are no interviews and no voice-over: what you see is what you get. And what you get is a day in the life of seniors who go through joy and sorrow, chaos and frustration, justice and abuse, charity and hostility, disappointment and triumph. This film is excruciating, powerful and blessed with a touch of absurd humour. A must for documentary lovers and humanists.
Awards: Gold Award in Open Category and Grand Prize, 8th Hong Kong Independent Short Film & Video Awards 2002
Tammy Cheung was born in Shanghai and raised in Hong Kong, She studied sociology at Concordia University in Montreal. In 1999, she produced her first documentary, Invisible Women, a film about the lives of three Indian women in Hong Kong. Her works include Secondary School (2002), Rice Distribution (2002) and Moving (2003).
In Shanghai (Zai Shanghai)
Lou Ye | China | 2001 | Video | 17:00 | Colour | Toronto Premiere
Shanghai is in many ways the most fascinating city in China. It had, in the past, been compared to Western cities, labeled the “Paris of the East.” This comparison seems too simple in hindsight. The city has undergone its own unique evolution through the years. Shanghai was largely occupied by foreigners during the late Qing Dynasty. It was highly prosperous and “modern” long before WWII – a conflict that quickly scarred the historic metropolis with bullet holes and bombs. Later, the famous glamour of Shanghai went suddenly dim, as the communists took hold of the country in 1949.
Shanghai emerges today as one of the essential components to the overall success of the economic engine of China. And as strange as it may seem, Shanghai now has new challenges and signals of change, ranging from crime-waves to rave parties, cell phones to ubiquitous neon signs. The old days, when communist ideology was strictly enforced, are gone. Through the eyes of director Lou Ye (who grew up in this city) we embark on a soul- searching and self-reflective journey into Shanghai. We can both feel and see his pain as he copes with the changes of his beloved city.
Lou Ye was born in Shanghai and studied film and painting at the Beijing Film Academy. His graduation film, Weekend Love (1994), earned him the Best Director prize at the 1996 Mannheim-Heidelberg film festival. Recognized as one of China’s “Sixth Generation” filmmakers, Lou worked in television and in 1995 directed his first feature, entitled Don’t Be Young (1995). His second feature, Suzhou River (2000), garnered several awards at various film festivals. Part of the “On the Waterfront” series, commissioned by the Rotterdam International Film Festival, Lou made In Shanghai. His third and most recent feature, Purple Butterfly, competed at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.
Into Air (Tsai Kungchung)
Dovar Chen | Taiwan | 2003 | Video | 45:00 | Colour | North American Premiere
After Taiwan joined the WTO, the country’s many farmers and fishermen were faced with many new challenges. Simultaneously, it seems that a new and intrepid documentary form emerged in Taiwan. Dovar Chen’s films spring from this exciting new frontier. Her film Poles Extremities screened at the Hot Docs Film Festival, and her latest film Into Air is just as stunning and ambitious. What makes Into Air unique is its ability to weave world politics into a poetic manifestation. Political documents usually evoke a newsreel approach to hard-sell their viewpoint, yet Into Air proves that a softer and more lyrical exploration does not diminish the subject’s authenticity. Viewers are allowed to step back and observe the message before they make assessments. Using sharp landscape videography, lyrical text, rhythmic editing and testimonies of endearing country folk, Into Air offers us a refreshing look on the impact of politics on individuals.
Dovar Chen was born in Taipei and grew up under martial law. She received a B.A. in mass communications in Taiwan (’94) and an M.F.A. in filmmaking at Syracuse University (’02). She spent six years working in Taipei’s TV commercial industry as an editor and post-production director. She wrote and directed two narrative experimental shorts in graduate school. Into Air is her first experimental-ethnographic documentary. She currently resides in New York City.