20 May 2013

Ethical Media and Social Reconstruction in China

In December 2004, I found myself in a meeting room at Guangzhou's Guangdong Film Distribution Corp., participating in a discussion about the difference between a 'communist' and a 'party member' with the producer, director, cinematographer, and distributor of the independent documentary Soul of the Nation (Guohun), which tells the stories of China's nationalist and communist revolutionary heroes by touring their tombs and memorials throughout the country. Zhao Jun, the producer, recalled that his elementary school teacher had explained that whereas a communist was a true believer in communist ideals, a party member was somebody who had joined the Communist Party as an organization. Although I was interested in researching independent media production outside the party-state and I have read quite a lot about independent documentaries that exposed the dark sides of the party's history in the Western and Diaspora Chinese media, I did not expect to meet a group who jokingly self-identified themselves as 'Bolsheviks outside the party' in 2004, making and distributing a 'red theme,' independent documentary in Guangzhou, the frontier of China's 'reform and openness' and globalized commercial popular culture.

09 May 2013

Challenging the Norms of Documentary Filmmaking

'Two Laws/Kanymarda Yuma' is a film made by the Borroloola Aboriginal Community, who live in the Northern Territory of Australia. The film was shot by two Sydney filmmakers, Alessandro Cavadini and Carolyn Strachan, but because of the Borroloola community decisions over the choice of subject matter and methods of filming 'Two Laws' is described by its distributors as 'an epic story told by the Borroloola people.' The film is in four parts, each dealing with different moments in the history of white Australian institutional attempts to coerce the Aboriginal people into the acceptance of white law and white custom. Part One--Police Times--re-enacts a round-up and forced march which took place in 1933; Part Two--Welfare Times--deals with the process of settlement and the imposition of government policies of assimilation during the 1950s; Part Three--Struggle for Our Land--is concerned with more recent fights for the recognition of Aboriginal land and law in the Land Claims courts; and Part Four--Living with Two Laws--describes the movement back to traditional Aboriginal lands. The film therefore represents an attempt by the Borroloola people not only to talk of their own history, but also to decide how that history would be represented. It is a directly political project, as its title suggests, in its efforts to reconstruct and remember white institutional coercion and Aboriginal struggles against it.