New Documentary Movement

New Documentary Movement
The New Documentary Movement (Xin jilu yundong) began in the early 1990s with a group of independent filmmakers who hoped to reveal a social reality different from that presented in the official or commercial media. To do so, they turned their cameras to the lower strata (diceng) of Chinese society as well as to people living an alternative lifestyle, two social groups whose voices had been suppressed or ignored in ‘special-topic films’ (zhuantipian) produced by the state-owned television networks.
Provoked and informed by the democratic movements of the late 1980s, especially that of 4 June 1989, the New Documentary Movement emerged in response to the accelerated changes experienced throughout the 1990s. Some of the artists involved had experience in working for the state-run television networks, where access to film equipment made it possible to work on their own projects in their spare time. Later, the advent of digital video cameras and cheaper editing technology made independent production easier, increasing the number of works and fostering a more intimate cinematic gaze. Stylistically, the majority of these new documentaries tilt heavily towards the tropes of ‘direct cinema’ and cinema vérité: an absence of omniscient voiceover commentary, and minimum use of script, synchronized sound recording, and so forth. The work of Frederick Wiseman has been identified as a major inspiration.
While some of the videomakers associated with this informal movement started making documentaries while stationed in Tibet in the early 1990s (e.g. Duan Jinchuan and Jiang Yue), the work that brought international recognition to the New Documentary Movement was Wu Wenguang’s Bumming in Beijing: The Last Dreamers (Liulang Beijing:zuihou de mengxiangzhe, 1990), a 165-minute-long video documenting the lives of five marginalized young artists in Beijing. Other important works include Kang Jianning’s Yin Yang (Yinyang, 1997), which relates the quiet hardships and contradictions encountered by a fengshui (geomancy) master in a poor village in the Ningxia Autonomous Region, and Li Hong’sOut of Phoenixbridge (Hui dao fenghuangqiao, 1997), the first ‘New Documentary’ directed by a woman. This is an intimate and sympathetic portrait of the hopes and disillusionments of several peasant girls who have left their home to try and make their livings in Beijing. Apart from these better-known filmmakers, mostly based in Beijing, an increasingly large group of amateur documentary-makers have begun to appear all over China in this newly found territory for personal expression. This is made possible by the popularity and affordability of handheld digital video cameras. Because of the increasing number of such filmmakers, more complete, varied and colourful representations of Chinese life are now appearing on screen, including Yang Lina’s Home Video (about her parents’ divorce), Li Lin’s Three Five People (about HIV-infected drug addicts in Chengdu), Chen Weijin’s To Live is Better Than to Die (about HIV infection in Wenhou, Hebei), Du Haibin’s Along the Railway (about homelessness in Shaanxi) and Wang Bing’s West of the Tracks (about the collapse of a state-owned enterprise in Shenyang).
See also: Tiananmen Square, docu (1991); Wang Jianwei
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Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.