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Saturday, November 02, 2013

Documentaries I saw at the Xi'An International Folk Video Festival 2013

On the October 25th to 29th, I was serving as a jury member at the Xi'An International Folk Video Festival 2013.

I've never been as jury member in a film festival before, so I was rather excited.

For two days, we had to go through 20 over nominated films, and then pick the winners by vote. Some of the Chinese documentaries I saw were quite sublime and enlightening.

These are the four that left quite an impression:

26-year-old Zhu Yu's CLOUDY MOUNTAINS 造云的山 (2012), which follows a father-and-son asbestos mining team working in Lop Nur, China. They have to work in a dust-filled mountain filled with toxic clouds. And all they had for protection were paper marks and scarves. This documentary had already played at the Moscow Film Festival, Hot Docs and a few other international film festivals.

Gu Tao's YUGUO AND HIS MOTHER 雨果的假期 (2011), the very first film I saw during the screenings, provided a glimpse of the Ewenki (or Evenks or Evenki) ethnic minority through the eyes of a 13 year old boy Hugo, we follow him as he returns to his village during the school holiday, and see him hang out with his alcoholic mother (a reindeer herder), his poetic uncle (who gave a monologue about the creation of the world) and many others. This film was listed as HUGO AND HIS MOTHER on the China Folk Video catalogue, that's why I had a lot of problems trying to find anything about this film. But once I went for the more phonetically-accurate YUGUO, I found out that this film was screened at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival 2011 and the Taiwan International Documentary Festival.

Wang Qingren's SONG FOR THE SPIRITS 老祖的声音 (2013) focuses on the Don Quixotic efforts of Mr. Lin Zhongshu, village head of Qujiaying Village at the Hebei Province and director of the Qujiaying Music Association, at preserving the traditional Qujiaying folk music. The documentary spans from the 80s to 2013, featuring archival footages from all these period of time.

Although his hard work has resurrected some interest in their music (which had lasted for more than a century), there had not been any young musicians these days who want to learn it anymore. So it is an ongoing battle that's being documented.

Chen Changqing's SON OF ADAM 亚当之子 (2012) shows a different side of Xi'An City. A jury special award winner at this year's Beijing Independent Film Festival and was screened as last year's China Independent Film Festival, this 2-hour (!!!) documentary follows the homeless and how their lives are affected by the city's rapid modernization. Its black and white photography is very evocative.