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New book highlights ‘golden era’ for Chinese independent cinema


The internet and new digital technologies have allowed independent cinema to thrive in China over the past two decades, a film expert writes in a new book.

The big picture: Filmmakers from rural China taught themselves filmmaking, shunned major production studios and brought their work directly to audiences online, allowing authentic rural stories to challenge more dominant urban narratives.

  • But tighter censorship now threatens the “golden period” that lasted from the mid-2000s to the mid-2010s, according to author Karen Ma.

Details: For her new book, China’s Millennial Digital Generation, Ma conducted extensive interviews with independent Chinese filmmakers born around the 1980s who have focused their work on their home regions in China, rather than the country’s major metropolises.

  • These filmmakers “were among the first in their villages to embrace cellphones, the Internet, and other modern technologies,” Ma writes. stimulating essays on the singular and official image of a glorious urban China.”

Background: Ma was inspired to write the book after watching independent Chinese films in Beijing in the early 2010s, which confirmed her “long-held suspicion – that glitzy commercial films in ordinary Chinese cinemas weren’t telling half of the story of the rise of modern China,” she writes.

  • Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou, two of China’s greatest directors, directed acclaimed films like ‘Raise the Red Lantern’ and ‘Farewell My Concubine’ in the 1990s, but have now turned to directing ‘politically correct’ blockbusters. , writes Ma.
  • Unlike directors of previous generations, writes Ma, “many young directors have deliberately zoomed in on today’s rural concerns and the lives of those who are often overlooked as China loses its image as a developing country and emerges as a capitalist powerhouse.” .

Filmmaker Li Ruijun, featured in the book, is a good example of how these local filmmakers are “dedicated to telling rural history,” Ma told Axios in an interview.

  • His 2012 film “Fly with the Crane” tells the story of a village coffin maker whose livelihood is destroyed when the government adopts a new policy requiring cremation.
  • The film explores how the village’s elderly residents would choose their coffins with care and pride, even trying them on. The coffin maker reflects on life and death in a village. Her belief is that “I don’t have a say in how I came to this world, but at least let me have a say in how I leave this world,” Ma told Axios.

What to watch: New guidelines released in 2022 extend traditional film censorship guidelines to television and online movies.

Go further: China is building its own movie empire