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China Comes to Hamburg
by Becky Tan

But is it the real China? The festival featured two programs with a total of 14 short films. This was difficult to organize and not to be taken for granted. China is far away; there are practically no short film festivals or even online viewing possibilities for short films. While Chinese video art has gained popularity, short films are still practically invisible; there is practically no support from the film industry. Zhou Fei, a professional in the Chinese film scene, spends several months each year in China and had the necessary insider connections to travel, view, and collect short films. In a festival interview, Ms. Zhou said that these films represent a changing lifestyle in China. There is increased influence from the United States and Europe, i.e., western culture. At the same time, artists are rediscovering traditional Chinese art. She tried to collect “modern” films, representing the last 20 years.

One section was titled “Lost in the Metropolis”; the second section was “Travel in the Past.” The most contemporary films were four from 2016. THE RELIC takes place in Taiyuan (the home town of the director Wang XinYi) and featured Biblical scriptures, high rises and garbage, as well as a dancer in white pants that was supported by excellent music. The English subtitles were too small to read. REARWARD featured 30 workers on a construction site. One was an actor who “pretended” to work. ARGENTUM featured four towns, which rely on the mining of minerals for city income. ANIMAL YEAR was animation; animals, chosen from those which represent Chinese New Year, look like humans, while kids drop bombs.  Here, director Zhong Su was available for Q & A. He said that the topic was something he remembered from the past and he was responsible for all imagines, sounds and music. The children are both evil and adorable. Although his English was a bit difficult to understand, he said “A movie is not a painting. A movie is based on a certain time, while a painting is not.”

Also present was director Sun Xun who discussed his animated film, HEROES NO LONGER from 2008. He said he doesn’t believe in education and he was never educated in animation. Later as we were leaving the cinema, I commented to him on his good English. He said that his English teacher was terrible – always demanding, always making them do exercises and never listening to the needs or interests of the students.

The curator, Zhou Fei, also showed her own film from2014, entitled JINHAU ROAD. For seven minutes we see 50 years of historical Chinese pictures and posters that she discovered and filmed hanging on an old wall.

All other films were made in the years 2001 to 2015. The shortest film was five minutes, the longest 25 minutes. Half were animated. Exactly half of the 14 films had no dialogue and the other seven had English subtitles. Considering the difficulty in locating films for the Chinese section of the festival, we should be happy for this opportunity and resist negative comments. Hopefully, there will be another opportunity to show Chinese short films, which are more contemporary and that teach us something about China we didn’t already know. My greatest disappointment was that, although this represents “modern” China and although several of the films were made by female directors, including the curator Ms. Zhou, women did not appear on screen. They seem to be non-existent in China, except for the film BLOW UP in which women and men appeared equally and THE RED FLAG FLIES in which one woman appears for 30 seconds of the total 25 minutes.