Digital Jianghu: Independent Documentary in a Beijing Art Village
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CitationSniadecki, John Paul. 2013. Digital Jianghu: Independent Documentary in a Beijing Art Village. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
AbstractMy ethnography explores the independent documentary film community in Songzhuang, an artist village in Beijing's Tongzhou District. Through participant-observation, interviews, participation in festivals, and my own filmmaking practice, I describe filmmakers and festival organizers as cultural producers endeavoring to work outside the confines of both the government and the mainstream cinema industry. To offer an analysis of the social, political, economic, and ethical conditions of this independent film community, my study also focuses on concrete practices of filmmakers and film supporters; privately-owned centers and social networks that enable the production, exhibition, and distribution of films; and the relationship between this community and government regulation. I argue that the independent documentary community constitutes a jianghu (literally, “rivers and lakes”), which, drawing from Chinese literature, I delimit as a social world of marginality and resistance against the status quo. Further, jianghu refers not only to independent filmmakers, but also to millions of “migrants” within the Chinese population who, even as they provide labor that fuels development, nonetheless subsist on the margins. This study also considers the efforts of filmmakers and scholars to elucidate a Chinese visual aesthetic, which has been called xianchang (“on the spot”) and, most recently, jingguan dianying (“quiet observational cinema”). These indigenous framings counter eurocentric notions of documentary and prevail among the majority of independent directors as an aesthetic wellsuited to represent the “cruelty of the social,” a term I introduce to describe social suffering born not only of China’s modern history of pain but also its contemporary turbulent era. I draw together the issues of distribution, social impact, and economic stability for independent documentary, as well as document the role of the state in quelling, censoring, and co-opting independent film. I conclude by exploring xianchang and my own filmmaking practice as advancing a form of knowledge that, owing to its experiential quality and its refusal to simplify and reduce phenomena into cultural data, is well-suited to represent the inherent complexity of Chinese society. Finally, a coda documents recent government oppression and festival cancellations to argue that the current moment is one of grave uncertainty for Chinese independent film.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:11064403
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