Reel China @ NYU 9th Biennial 2019

Reel China 2019 poster

Reel China @ NYU 9th Biennial 2019
Friday, November 8 - Sunday, November 10

As China becomes the world’s largest film market, dominated by commercial and propaganda-oriented blockbusters, independent documentary filmmakers continue to train their cameras on a rapidly transforming Chinese society.  They regard and engage disfranchised communities, conflicting values, the rural/urban divide, and new subjectivities in the making including the migrant, the queer, or the physically marked as different. Among the selections for this year, several also concern the ambivalent legacy of the socialist period, especially the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, its impact on individual and collective memory, and the politics of its representation. We invite you to join us.

Curated by ZHANG Zhen 张真, Angela Zito 司徒安, and WANG Xiaolu  王小鲁

Co-Presented by the Asian Film and Media Initiative (AFMI) at the Department of Cinema Studies, and the Center for Religion and Media (CRM), New York University.

Co-sponsored by NYU’s Provost’s Office and NYU Departments of History, East Asian Studies and Media, Culture and Communication. With the support of the Provost's Global Research Initiative.

Biennial coordinators: Cristina Cajulis and Zoe Meng Jiang

All screenings take place at Michelson Theater, 721 Broadway, Room 648 (or indicated otherwise*)

Friday, November 8

3:15pm 24th Street 24号大街 (PAN Zhiqi 潘志琪, 2018, 90min)+ Q & A with PAN Zhiqi 潘志琪, moderated by Professor ZHANG Zhen and Professor Angela Zito
*The Goldberg Theater 721 Broadway, Room 746 

6:00pm Opening reception Cinema Studies Lounge 721 Broadway, 6th Floor 

7:00pm Barefoot Doctor 赤脚医生 (XU Tong 徐童, 2018, 100min) + Q & A with XU Tong 徐童, TANG Xiaoyan 唐小雁(producer), and SUN Lizhe 孙立哲 (protagonist), moderated by Professor Angela Zito and Professor ZHANG Zhen

Saturday, November 9

10:00am Turtle Rock 团鱼岩 (XIAO Xiao 萧潇, 2017, 101min) 

1:00pm Mr. Big 大三儿 (TONG Shengjia 佟晟嘉, 2018, 102min) 

3:00pm Life of a Woman 我要活着 (Dajing 大京 2019, 62min)

4:15pm Drum Tower 鼓楼西 (FAN Popo 范坡坡 2018, 18min) 

4:35pm Block and Censor一次网络视屏管理 (CHEN Ahwei 陈啊炜 2018, 61min) + Q & A with FAN Popo 范坡坡 and Jenny Man WU 吴漫 (producer of Drum Tower), moderated by Professor Feng-mei Heberer 

7:00pm No Land 冬日回家 (ZHANG Ping 张苹, 2015, 40min) 

7:40pm Daxing is on Fire 大兴失火 (CHEN Jiaping 陈家坪, 2018, 74min) 

Sunday, November 10

10:00am Dance on the Square 广场上的舞蹈 (KANG Shiwei 康世伟, 2018, 92min) 

1:00pm In Character 入戏 (Tracy Dong 董雪萤, 2018, 76min) 

3:00pm Weave a Period of Time 岁月如织 (HAN Tao 韩涛, 2018, 107 min) + Q & A with Han Tao 韩涛 moderated by Professor Rebecca Karl


Friday, November 8

A man sitting on a bed in an open plains. A dog sits at his feet. A woman is sitting on a chair to his left.

Still from PAN Zhiqi's 24th Street

24th Street 24号大街 (PAN Zhiqi 潘志琪, 2018, 90min.)

Shot over seven years, this documentary observes the life and times of Su and his girlfriend Qin as they live a life migrating from construction site to construction site. The film opens in 2010 in Hangzhou, at “24th Street,” where Su and Qin opened a simple restaurant in the site’s shantytown. Lacking legal permits, Su and the other illegal households were forced to leave. We follow them through one more failed attempt to open a business before, exhausted, they head home to rural Guizhou in defeat. But home does not welcome a man who abandoned his wife and family to hit the road with a new woman—and a tale of migrants and construction sites turns into a deeper look at gender and family relations during times of tremendous social upheaval. 


Pan Zhiqi is an associate professor at Zhejiang University of Media and Communications, after graduating from the Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts and the Beijing Film Academy. His feature films include The Detective (2009) and Concealed (2010). 24th Street won the Asian pitch in the Asian Documentary Film Proposal competition at the Korean DMZ Doc Film Fund, as well as the 2017 IDFA Best Feature Film Competition. The film was also screened at Sweden’s 41st Gothenburg International Film Festival, the 30th Amsterdam International Documentary Festival, and was nominated for Best Documentary at 55th Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival. 


A man wearing a stethoscope and a woman and child behind him.

Still from XU Tong's BAREFOOT DOCTOR

Barefoot Doctor 赤脚医生 (XU Tong徐童, 2018, 100min.)

Weaving several timelines, incorporating footage and photographs from the past, this documentary gives us the life of Sun Lizhe, the nationally famous model “barefoot doctor” of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Over 60 years old, Sun, a medical doctor with degrees from Australia, is now a businessman living in the United States. Director Xu Tong and his crew follow Sun back to the distant village in the mountains of Shanxi where Sun had moved at 18 as one of millions of “Sent-Down Youth” who were relocated from cities to rural areas in the Mao era. In his cave house, Sun learned medicine, performing over 3000 surgeries for poor villagers over a nearly ten-year stay. 

Born in 1951 to an intellectual family at Tsinghua University in Beijing, Sun’s political success at having been named by Mao himself as one of five model “educated youth” in 1974 soured when he was accused of being too close to the Gang of Four. Through his eyes, we navigate personal and political paths as tortuous as the mountains of Yan’an.  


Xu Tong was born in Beijing in 1965 and graduated from the Department of Photography at the Communication University of China in 1987. Based in Beijing, his award-winning documentary works include the “Society’s Bottom Rungs” trilogy: Wheat Harvest (2008), Fortune Teller (2009) and Shattered (2011), among others. We are especially happy to welcome him in person to Reel China, having shown his other works in previous years. 


Saturday, November 9

Man walking in a forest

Still from XIAO Xiao's TURTLE ROCK

Turtle Rock 团鱼岩 (XIAO Xiao 萧潇, 2017, 101min.)

This exquisite, observational documentary shot in black and white preserves the mystery of lives lived in a tiny mountain village far from the flash of urbanizing China. The filmmaker follows the daily life of three generations: the 80-year-old woman, still working hard, burns her incense and prays for the return of her son. But his coming home results only in increasingly impoverished anxiety, alongside a returned grandson who also struggles to scratch out a living. Bound by the high mountains that encircle and isolate them, their fates are enfettered like the giant “Turtle Rock” at the village gate. Its legend holds that once a turtle tried to ascend to heavenly realms in self-cultivation, failed, and was hurled to earth, a dumb rock, by the Thunder God. 


Xiao Xiao was born in 1984 in Hunan, China. He graduated from the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou and is currently based in Beijing as an artist and photographer. His work has been shown in China and around the world in Germany, France, and Italy. Turtle Rock is his first feature length documentary and has been exhibited, among other venues, at IDFA (Amsterdam), TIDF (Taipei) and IDF (Hangzhou), and the International Film Festival in Zagreb, Croatia.

萧潇,导演、影像作者、艺术家,1984 出生于中国湖南。2008 毕业於中国美术学院摄影系。2009年至今生活工作于北京。期间作品多次参加国内外美术馆、画廊空间的艺术展览并被收藏。2017年,处女作记录长片电影《团鱼岩》入围阿姆斯特丹纪录片国际电影节(IDFA)新人竞赛单元,英国雪菲尔德纪录片国际电影节艺术纪录片奖提名,台湾纪录片双年展(TIDF)亚洲竞赛单元,克罗地亚Zagreb国际电影节国际竞赛单元等。

Three men sitting on rocks, with their backs to us

TONG Shengjia's MR. BIG

Mr. Big 大三儿 (TONG Shengjia 佟晟嘉, 2018, 102min.)

"Mr. Big," working in a copper company day after day in Inner Mongolia, suddenly hatches the idea of traveling to Tibet. You might say it's a “bucket list” item. The trip presents many challenges, financial and physical, but he overcomes family objections with the help of friends and set off. This very funny road film gives audiences a tender and unusual look at how differences are navigated in China today. One of the few theatrically released documentaries in China, the film was exhibited and well received in a number of cities.


Tong Shengjia was born in Chifeng, Mongolia and has worked as a documentary director since 2006. Previous films include Happiness China (2009), Youth to Youth (2013), Journey to Enlightenment (2015), The Woman and Urban Monkey (2019). Mr. Big was selected at the 42nd Montreal International Film Festival, and among the Excellent Works of Beijing Film and Television Creation Fund of 2018.


Woman sitting on a bed with her hands clasped and eyes closed

Still from Dajing's LIFE OF A WOMAN

Life of a Woman 我要活着 (Dajing大京, 2019, 62min.)

Trans woman? Homosexual? Pansexual? Beijinger? Geek girl? Beatbox? Christian? Game addict? Actress? Bean pole? Cosmetic surgery failure? Long haired? Flirt? How many more tags do you need to fully understand her? Let us enter the world of Sisi together.


Dajing is a native of Beijing where she works as an independent transgender and queer filmmaker. Her works include Our Vaginas, Our Selves (2013), I am Going To Make Lesbian Porn (2014, featured in 8th Reel China), and Life of a Woman (2019), her first feature-length film.

大京,北京人, 现居北京, 跨性别酷儿艺术电影导演。主要作品有《阴道之道》(2013)《我要拍女女色情片》(2014, 曾在第8届“真实中国”展映)和首部长片《我要活着》。

Woman with hair covering one side of her face and her hands on her chin


Drum Tower 鼓楼西 (FAN Popo 范坡坡, 2018, 18min.)

Drum Tower (Gulou) is located in downtown of Beijing. It has witnessed the dramatic changes of the city’s landscape; when the government seals up “Holes in Wall” (illegal construction including doors and windows in the wall that were added for business purposes), a lot of street stores, like boutiques, bars and restaurants, vanish. Kacchan is a high school student who wanders in hutong alleyways every day, escaping from classes. Once by accident, he meets a vintage shop owner in a public toilet and is fascinated by her, Miss Mi. Dealing with being transgender adds further stress to Miss M's life, just when her vintage shop in going to be demolished. The identity of being transgender brings some inconvenience to Miss Mi’s life, at the same time her vintage shop is going to be demolished. Kacchan enters her life, but can’t do anything to help, until the very day comes. This film is the first from China in which all leading performers are transgender, and one of them plays a cisgender role.



Popo Fan is a queer filmmaker and activist. His films featured topics such as same sex marriage (New Beijing, New Marriage, 2009), transgender (Be A Woman, 2011), feminism (The VaChina Monologues, 2013). His trilogy Chinese Closet (2009), Mama Rainbow, (2012), Papa Rainbow (2016), focusing on LGBT families in China, had made strong impact on the Chinese society. His tireless working on LGBT visibility also includes serving as organizer for the Beijing Queer Film Festival for more than a decade, as well as founder of Queer University Video Training Camp. In 2011, he received Prism Award from Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. And in 2016 he won the best short film at CHOUFTOUHONNA, Tunis International Feminist Art Film Festival (The VaChina Monologues). He participated in Berlinale Talents 2017. He is also the jury of Teddy Award in 2019. 

范坡坡是一位酷儿导演和活动家,他的作品主要关于同志人群。在北京电影学院学习期间,他就出版了《春光乍泄:百部同志电影全纪录》一书,这是中国大陆首部相关主题著作。 作品的话题涵盖同性婚姻(《新前门大街》,2009)、跨性别(《舞娘》,2011)、女权主义(《来自阴道》,2013)等等。而影响力最大的莫过于“彩虹家庭三部曲”,包括《柜族》(2009)、《彩虹伴我心》(2012)、《彩虹伴我行》(2016)三部作品关注于同志出柜议题,引起巨大社会反响。除此之外他也是北京酷儿影展、酷儿大学影像训练营的主要组织者、发起者。2012年,香港同志影展授予他“玲珑大奖”以表彰其在同志影像、平权的不懈努力。2017年,他获选参与柏林电影节“天才训练营”。2019,他更担任泰迪熊奖评委。

Jenny Man WU was in charge of the China Project at Bridging the Dragon Sino-European Producers’ Association, Committee member and Director on Duty of Beijing Queer Film Festival. She was the curators of several short film showcases in various events including Beijing Queer Film Festival, Love Queer Cinema Week, Helsinki Festival, Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, Beijing Design Week, etc. The films that she directed and produced were screened at the Berlinale, Viennale, SEOUL International Women's Film Festival and FIRST Film Festival, Beijing Independent Film Festival, etc. As producer she has participated in Berlinale Talents Program in 2019 and FIRST Youth Film Festival Training program in 2014.


Little boy wearing a police officer hat

Poster for Chen Ahwei's BLOCK AND CENSOR

Block and Censor 一次网络视屏管理 (CHEN Ahwei 陈啊炜, 2018, 61min.)

In December 2014, Popo Fan's documentary, Mama Rainbow, about six Chinese mothers' acceptance of their gay children, was deleted from Chinese video websites.  Block and Censor follows queer filmmaker Fan as he brings a lawsuit against SARFT (the PRC State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, Television). Interviews with Popo's lawyer, journalists, NGOers, activists, and commentators, alternate with the endless laws and regulations to interrogate China's systemic use of censorship.

The film has been selected by Taiwan South film festival, Leeds Queer Film Festival, and nominated for best documentary at New York Indie Film Festival and British Urban Film Festival.


CHEN Ahwei, born in 1984, is a filmmaker based in Beijing and Fujian Province in China. He started his film career early in 2007 as an independent film critic, curator and later turned to independent film making himself in 2014. Block and Censor is his first feature film. 

陈啊炜, 1984年生于福建。纪录片工作者。2007年接触中国独立电影,自此由影评写作、电影策划转向影像制作;2014年开始致力独立纪录片工作。


A small hut and a broken wall

Still from Zhang Ping's NO LAND

No Land 冬日回家 (ZHANG Ping 张苹, 2016, 40min)

A beautifully composed and emotionally charged visual meditation on the tumultuous life of the filmmaker’s 80-year old father. As a young peasant with a “red” background, he joined a factory in the city and initially thrived as a leader in a political campaign. But soon he was condemned as a “rightist” and sent back to the country for “re-education” for 18 years, until eventually rehabilitated. Approaching eighty, he begins to prepare for his own funeral in his ancestral village. The latter has itself also become increasingly desolate during China’s rapid modernization and urbanization.

一个大山深处被荒弃的村庄,一个为自己掘坟的老人,一段荒诞洪流历史中个人经历。他是我的父亲张朝珉,一个不识字的老右派, 一个老的“反党反社会主义分子”。年轻时,根红苗正的他从农村进入城市的工厂,成为工厂的整风运动的三人领导核心,前途光明。好日子不长,他被打倒下放农村18年,平反后作为普通工人安然退休。七十岁工厂改制私有,父亲又回到农村。80岁的他开始为死亡做准备,他出生的村子,收留他的村子,也在逐渐被荒废。此片由静态影像构成。

ZHANG Ping was born in Hunan Province in 1978. Between 2000 and 2011 she lived and worked in Tibet, followed by a year in Yunnan Province. Since 2012 she is based in Beijing working as an independent writer and filmmaker. Her films include No Land (2015), Healing Balm (2017), Love Song of the Living, Love Song of the Dead (2018) and Landscape: Green and White (2018). She has also published two non-fiction books. 

张苹1978年生于湖南。2000-2011在西藏生活工作,2011-2012 在云南生活工作。2012至今在北京从事文字艺术工作,影像作者。影像作品有《冬天回家》(2016),《土制没药》(2017),《情歌》(2018) 和《风景·青白》。出版书籍包括 《藏漂十年》(2014)和《找一个背风向阳的草坡睡个觉》(2018)。作为一个有积淀的女导演,她挖掘和呈现历史的方式独特,她的电影质感和日常生活气息结合相当紧密。

Man's head from behind looking out in the distance. The sky is pink.


Daxing Is On Fire 大兴失火 (CHEN Jiaping陈家坪, 2018, 74min.)

In November 2017, a fire broke out in a low-rent tenement building at Xinjian Village in Daxing District, an area in the southern suburbs of Beijing. 19 people died and 8 were injured. In the Beijing government’s immediately following efforts to secure safety and minimize security risks in the city, mass eviction of migrant workers was carried out in the name of demolishing “illegal constructions.”

Li Zhiyong, working at a Logistic Company, moved into Xinjian Village in 2014. After the fire he is evicted and starts living in a van. His company loses its office and can only unload shipments under a bridge. Li promises his wife that they will one day live in a building, but the bulldozers destroy their dreams. After moving three times, Li decides to go back to his hometown. His final words to Beijing are: “It’s not that I don’t work hard. The reality is too cruel!”



Chen Jiaping is a poet and documentary director from China. He started filming migrants in Beijing since 2003. From 2010 to 2014 he documented the “rights defense” movements of the migrant students’ parents. From 2016 on, he has been engaged in the “Poison-Independent (duli, 毒立) Cinema” Movement, of which he is one of the initiators. In October 2017, he completed the documentary film The Orphans, which has been collected by the Institute of Chinese Studies of The Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2019.


Sunday, November 10

A couple dances in the street. Many dancers are visible in the background.

Still from KANG Shiwei's DANCE ON THE SQUARE

Dance on the Square 广场上的舞蹈 (KANG Shiwei 康世伟, 2018, 90min.)

The phenomenon of “dancing on the square” has been in the news: people, usually women, bring boom boxes out into parking lots, malls and dance, sometimes late into the night to the annoyance of neighbors. This documentary takes us back to the surprising origins of such public dancing today in the “loyalty dance” during the Cultural Revolution. We then follow three seniors who love to dance on the square, and through it come to understand their histories during China’s political past and what this community means to them today. The director asks, Can we see the history of Dancing on the Square as the history of late 20th century China in miniature?


KANG Shi-wei was born in Chengdu, China in 1982. He holds an MA degree in Department of Public Art, China Academy of Art, and is now a PhD candidate at School of Arts and Communications in Southwest Jiaotong University, China. KANG has been a professional documentary filmmaker since 2005. His works were nominated and awarded in various film festivals, including Guangzhou International Documentary Film Festival (China), Davis International Film Festival (USA), Toronto International Film Festival, among others.

康世伟,1982年生于成都,2004年毕业於西南民族大学,获学士学位,2008年毕业於中国美术学院公共艺术系,获硕士学位。现於西南交通大学攻读新闻与传播专业博士。2005年至今为职业纪录片导演 。其作品被包括中国纪录片学院奖、广州纪录片节、美国戴维斯国际电影节、加拿大多伦多电影周、俄罗斯真实电影节、意大利卢米埃电影节等十多个国内外电影节提名并获奖。

Man in a red sweatshirt walking in front of a poster of Mao Zedong

Still from Tracy's Dong's IN CHARACTER

In Character 入戏 (Tracy Dong 董雪萤, 2018, 76min.)   

Ye Jing, a director obsessed with Cultural Revolution, brings 13 young actors back in historical time by locking them up in a firearms factory in a village in Sichuan to shoot his new feature film. Enjoined to remain strictly in character, the actors dress in period clothes, listen to period music and cannot contact the outside world. Tracy Dong films the behind the scenes making-of the film that ends up documenting a genuine struggle when one of the actors asks for leave. We all, audience and performers, end up with a more intimate—and disturbing—sense of life during the Culture Revolution than anyone perhaps intended. 


Tracy Dong graduated from Beijing Film Academy and established the 8090 Studio. She started making documentary in 2010 with a DV. In Character was developed in the CCDF and Sundance-CNEX Editing Workshop and won the special jury award at the Washington DC Chinese Film Festival. It was selected in the Gothenberg International Film Festival (Sweden), FIRST International Film Festival (China) and Chinese Visual Festival (UK). Her most recent documentary film Harden Love won the Best Project Prize of West Lake International Documentary Festival in 2018.


colorful illustration showing four rows of workers in blue suits marching down a street


Weave a Period of Time 岁月如织 (HAN Tao韩涛, 2018, 107min.)

Han Tao's latest film is set in a textile factory of the 1970s. Chong Er, a worker there, is in love with newcomer Xiao Lan and pursues her. They get married, but the happy time does not last long. Chong Er was executed, allegedly for breaking the law. More than 30 years later, the textile factory is closed down. The truth behind the case is finally revealed, but time has diluted everything and changed everyone’s visage. The film attempts to reconstruct the mental state of that generation, even though the workers and everything in the factory have been forgotten. Once upon a time, there were so many energetic lives that worked and lived there. The confining space was everything they had – where life began and ended, becoming eternally trapped in memories.


HAN Tao (b.1976) is contemporary artist, curator and filmmaker based in Beijing and Laiwu, Shandong (his hometown). In 2001 he founded the “Civilian Film Screening” which was relocated to Beijing in 2004. His documentary and fictional film works include Women in History (2001), Baby (2003), Heavy Fog (2006), The Missing (2015), Purgatory (2016), Wild Grass (2005-2017) and Weave a Period of Time (2018). Many of his films have been shown at film festivals in China and abroad, including Hong Kong International Film Festival, Filmfest München, London Independent Film Awards, Chinese Independent Film Festival, Pingyao International Film Festival, among others.



WANG Xiaolu, guest curator of 9th Reel China, is a leading film critic and curator. He holds a doctoral degree from Beijing Film Academy and is the author of several volumes including Cinema and the Disease of the Epoch (2008), Cinema and Politics (2014).