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DL talk01

Fanhall Studio spreading the spirit of independence in Chinese cinema

An interview with Zhu Rikun, head of Fanhall Studio


> Could you introduce yourself and tell us what Fanhall Studio is about ?
How did Fanhall start and in what context ? What is its purposes, activities and aims ?

"Fanhall was created in December 2001. At that time, independent films started to be shown in China. The development of the internet in China favored the acceptation of this kind of cultural products. By viewing these movies, people received continiously similar national and international news. When I was an undergraduate, I was used to viewing films, a habit that I have always kept and developped. I wanted to do something by myself in order to make better known the cinema. So, I created Fanhall Studio and began to organize diverse activities such as screenings and discussions about films. At this time, we brought out some Chinese movies and invested money into small budgets films. Before funding Fanhall Studio, I worked in an internet software company for a year, and before that I studied financial and management from 1996 to 2000 at Beijing University. In fact, my interest in movies came gradually. After funding Fanhall Sudio, I helped some movies to find investments and to be produced and to be distributed and seen.
Today, my work includes supervising management and focuses on making the movies to be more known by helping on their production and their screenings. The main goals of Fanhall Studio are to stimulate the development of independent Chinese films, to encourage the communication between he young directors and their audience and to spread the spirit of independence in Chinese cinema.
Once a week, we hold screenings and discussions and once a year a festival of Chinese documentaries which lasts a week. We screen many movies during the events we organize : DV film festival, Finnish Film Festival, Films by young directors etc...."

> For several years now, many Chinese filmmakers have chosen the DV format. This allows them to film what they wish without too many many constraints (technically, politically). What is the situation today ? Do these productions still remain in the independent film circuit or are they entering the more official scene ? Are they more accepted in China today ?

"The DV productions bring up national and international attention. Every year a large amount of films (fictions and documentaries) are made in DV format such as the literary and artistic creations by Cui Zi'en (note 1) and Chen Yusu (note 2), Tiexi Qu : West of Tracks by Wang Bing (note3) , To Live is better than to Die by Chen Weijun (note 4). But those DV productions don't follow the traditional movie circuit. According to the Chinese authorities, today the main way of how to connect with the audience is through the DVDs or within the context of festivals. I must say that in China there is no possibility to follow the official path as well as TV broadcast. But perhaps they are more difficult to access than the traditional films; many viewers think that they aren't proper films, but this way of thinking is starting to change."

> For a while now, documentary has been re-evaluated. It uses diverse forms and blends with fiction by adding fictional elements or by elaborating some narrative frame close to that of fiction for instance. As well, fiction sometimes draws its source into the real adopting a semi-documentary approach. Do you think that this seperation between fiction and documentary tends to disappear ?
What is the actual situation of the documentary in China today ? Does it hold a specific interest in China ? In regards to its history and the film industry ? How does it get shown (TV, festivals, theaters...)?

"I think that the seperation between documentary and fiction is artificial, of course sometimes it is intended to be that way (it is deliberately done on purpose). To me, I prefer this seperation to be visible. Surely, many people think the same, so this seperation may be difficult to erase.
Documentary productions are very active. I often see new productions emerging. This situation surprises us a lot. The succes of Chinese documentary has reached beyond that of ten years ago and is going to take an important place in the near future. Before documentary didn't appeal to many people but now this situation has started to change. Of course, I'm talking about its influence, documentaries are spread thanks to festivals and DVDs. Official medias, such as TV, refuse to take independent documentaris, almost all are considered as illegal.
The development of Chinese documentary is bound with that of internet and of digital format. Internet gives us a wider vision and DV makes the production possible."

> What are the main influences to those filmmakers (of those films) ? How do they place themselves in relation to the directors of the 5th generation (Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Tian Zhuangzhuang...) and those of the 90s (Jia Zhangke, Zhang Yuan, Wang Xiaoshuai..)? (note 5)
The documentaries presented are quite various in their forms but deal with contemporary matters or on ethnic or social minorities. Is there however a specific documentary movement in China ?

"Influences of the directors of the 6th generation - the directors of the 90s - are marginal. Most of the 5th generation direct now commercial movies and since 1990 the what we call the "6th generation" is also in an embarassing situation. Their creation declines and the commercial movies of the 5th generation don't do too well in the box office. Those young directors have a wider view, their subjects are more various and show more social responsabilities in their work. But each one has different views, so today, it's hard for me to tell their positions.
Concerning the censorship law promulgated by the governement, it is very harsh. If we follow fullfully this regulation, almost all movies are illegal. But this regulation is impossible to stop creation yet it can make many movies unseen through the official path."

> How do you see the future of the independent productions ? What about documentaries ?

"For me, the future concerning Chinese independent productions (including documentaries) is very optimistic. This optimism doesn't mean a flourishing market, but most importantly is that the true spirit independence can generate a complete new idea and a new knowledge to the Chinese people of themselves and of society. This renewal can let us understand things which many Chinese in the past couldn't have such as freedom, independence, reponsabilities, social progress. The new directors of future documentaries can get hold of larger spaces ad surely have more opportunities to see their productions to be made and seen."

> Interview conducted by Marina Foxley via email in February 2006.

> Notes :
note 1 : Cui Zi'en is a director, avant-garde DV maker, film scholar, screenwriter, novelist and an outspoken gay activist and scholar based in Beijing. He has published nine novels in China and Hong Kong, one of which, Uncle's Past , won the 2001 Radio Literature Award in Germany.

note 2 : Andrew Chen Yusu is the director of Shanghai Panic (2001) and Welcome to Destination Shanghai (2003), shot in DV.

note 3 : Tiexi Qu : West of Tracks by Wang Bing (2003). An outstanding 9 hour DV documentary divided into three parts (Rust, Remnants, Rails) that won several awards at several international festivals.

note 4 : To Live is better than to Die by Chen Weijun (2003). Awarded in some festivals, this documentary, set in Wenlou, a small village in central China, where 60 % of the villagers are infected with HIV because they made a little extra money selling their blood in the early 90's.

note 5 : History of Chinese cinema has been divided into generations of directors. However this layout is sometimes ambigious and several Chinese directors refuse to be labelled as a representative of a generation.

> The chinese documentary, Dream Walking (Meng You) by Huang Wenhai and produced by Zhu Rikun has just received the Great Prize of the festival "Cinema du Reel" held in Centre Pompidou in Paris (March, 10th to 19th).
more >

> A special presentation of independent Chinese documentaries,
curated by Zhu Rikun, is in the pipeline.



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