Today on our MCLC e-list I saw a posting of this article, an interview with Harvard art historian Eugene Wang on the subject of Jia Zhangke's film about artist Liu Xiaodong, called "Dong." I was inspired to write a message to the MCLC community. Here is what I wrote. I also welcome comments from readers of my journal...
Thanks for posting this interview, Kevin. Eugene Wang offers us a fascinating discussion about art, film, and photography and their connections. I just watched a great film on that very subject, the Banksy documentary "Exit Through the Gift Shop" about the underground filmmaker Thierry Guetta (if you can call him that--film collector is more accurate) who turned his obsession for filming street artists into a career as a "street artist." I wonder if people who film documentaries about artists aren't themselves aspiring to be the artist in the film. Of course we can all agree that Jia Zhangke is already an accomplished "artist," in that the films he makes have an artistic quality to them.
I have a passionate interest in music and have always hoped to be a better musician than I am, but for lack of talent, ambition, time or what have you, or simply as a product of my childhood, that never came to be. So I make up for that by filming musicians. Now that we're done with our documentary film on Chinese indie rock--the film is called Down: Indie Rock in the PRC--I'm considering making another film, this time on the jazz scene in Shanghai. But there's a part of me that would rather be onstage performing with the musicians I'm filming rather than behind the camera, and I wonder if Jia Zhangke didn't get that feeling while filming Liu Xiaodong.
But filmmaking is also a great way to engage with your subject in an intimate way, while also maintaining a certain reserve and distance from said subject. Another subject that I'm interested in documenting is the contemporary art scene and the connections that artists in China today are making with the legacy of Chinese artists as literati. On that note, other than Jia Zhangke's film, how many other films have been made recently about contemporary Chinese artists? A few I suppose, but for anybody reading this post, I'd love to hear their opinions as to which films they've seen are to be most highly recommended.
On another matter, I'm also interested in the question of my own position as a filmmaker in China. dGenerate films showcases Chinese contemporary filmmakers, and I've been told that they are not interested in people such as myself who don't happen to be ethnically or nationally Chinese but are still making films about life in China. So where do we fit in? Or should I perhaps just use my Chinese name and pose as a Mainlander in order to get recognition for the films I'm making? I may sound like I'm joking, but this is a serious issue for myself and for others like me who are not "Chinese" but who are trying to get noticed for making films in and about China. I'd love to hear others' insights and opinions on this matter.