by Dan Edwards.
A PAIR of elderly petitioners chased on to tracks and run down by a train. A city encircled by toxic waste. A deputy headmistress beaten to death by her students. The scenes revealed by China’s independent documentaries are not for the faint-hearted, but they offer a rarely seen and uncensored view of the country in Street Level Visions, my program at MIFF.
I lived in the People’s Republic from 2007 to 2011, and was as seduced as anyone by the glittering skylines, pace of change and sheer energy of a nation opening up after decades of isolation. But the longer I stayed in Beijing, the more I kept glimpsing another reality that never seemed to appear on the nightly news bulletins. As I got to know some of the filmmakers of China’s independent documentary world, they helped me understand the flip side of China’s economic ”miracle” – and who was paying the price for all those glittering lights.
Although the first independent Chinese works appeared around 1990, it was the arrival of cheap DV cameras from the late ’90s that ignited an explosion of filmmaking outside the nation’s heavily censored official channels. Production values are often rough, and the films pay scant regard to the niceties of either commercial filmmaking or arthouse conventions. This is China in the raw, and the results can be devastating.
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