Mao Zedong launched the Anti-Rightist Movement in 1957 as a reaction to the critical statements that emerged from the Hundred Flowers Movement, during which intellectuals were encouraged to express their honest views of the Communist Party.
As a result of this brutal campaign, hundreds of thousands of intellectuals were sent to hard labor camps for re-education.
In his latest documentary, “Dead Souls,” Wang Bing addresses the forgotten history of Jiabiangou, one of the most brutal camps, located in the northwestern region of Gansu province.
Clocking in at over eight hours, the film marks a new installment in Wang’s ongoing investigation of the history of Jiabiangou. The camp was also the subject of his lone fiction film, “The Ditch” (2010).
With “Dead Souls,” Wang delves deeper into the survivors’ recollections to record an oral history of Jiabiangou, the result of 120 interviews conducted between 2005 and 2014 and over 600 hours of footage.
Though filmed between 1998 and 2001, Yves Saint Laurent documentary, “Celebration,” is only now seeing the light of day. It was released Nov. 14 in France.
The depiction of an aging, ailing Saint Laurent in the years before his departure from the fashion house in 2002 is said to have incensed Pierre Bergé, Saint Laurent’s life and business partner, who blocked the release of the film.
“Whereas we had total freedom during the filming between 1998 and 2001, I realized once the film was over that Pierre Bergé and I didn’t have the same idea of what a documentary is,” explained director Oliver Meyrou.
“Celebration” dives into the day-to-day activity of the Saint Laurent couture house, capturing the intense preparation of fashion shows and special celebrations.
A silent and camera-shy Saint Laurent is filmed in black and white, while other members of the couture house — première d’atelier Madame Colette, public relations head Dominique Deroche, Bergé, Loulou de la Falaise, and Betty Catroux — move and talk in color.
Bergé asked the director to view the footage before its release, which Meyrou refused. As a result, despite being screened at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2007, the documentary was banned from hitting screens.
“Hello Catherine. Can you make any noise so I know that you’re listening to me?
“Catherine, can you make any noise?
“Can you bang your phone or anything?
“Catherine, are you there?
“I think that’s the phone gone…”
These were the last moments of Catherine Hickman. The words are those of the 999 operator as thick acrid smoke and flames engulfed Catherine in her flat.
She had been on the phone for a full half hour, and, for the whole of that time, was advised – told in fact – to “stay put,” because the fire brigade knew where she was, was coming to rescue her, and because, as she was told, she didn’t know what was on the other side of her front door.
She could easily have been calling from Grenfell Tower on 14 June last year. She wasn’t, though. She was one of the victims of a notorious earlier blaze in a block of council flats, at Lakanal House in Camberwell, south London back in 2009.
They had been fitted with flammable composite cladding, and there was no sprinkler system.
That was why Catherine died. That her sisters allowed her words to be used for the broadcast was noble indeed – because, as they explain in the film, they did not wish her life to have been lost in vain.
As BBC Two documentary “The Fires that Foretold Grenfell” forensically and graphically illustrates, the rigid use of the “stay put” rule, official complacency, and a collective failure to learn lessons over many years led inexorably and inevitably to the loss of 72 lives at Grenfell Tower, and even that number was mercifully fewer than it might have been.
Could Grenfell happen again? Given the history presented in this distressing and important documentary, the answer is yes.
True to form, this year’s Busan International Film Festival in South Korea, which concluded earlier this month, once again played host to new Chinese-produced movies of various styles and stripes.
On the one hand, there was mainstream fare in the shape Xu Zheng’s “Dying to Survive” and Huang Bo’s “The Island,” summer comedies that grossed 3.1 billion yuan (US$448 million) and 1.4 billion yuan (US$201 million), respectively.
Also showing were auteur-driven works such as Jia Zhangke’s “Ash is Purest White,” which made its bow at the Cannes Film Festival in May, and Pema Tseden’s “Jinpa” – a drama set in Tibet and produced by Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai that premiered at the Venice Film Festival last month.
Among these high-profile entertainers, auteurs, and rookies was an award-winning master – Wang Xiaoshuai – who chose to present his latest work in Busan without the fanfare accorded his peers.
Wang’s “Chinese Portrait” is a narration-free documentary comprised of hundreds of short sequences the director shot over the past decade about the everyday lives of ordinary people in China.
The project began as an attempt to capture the landscapes featured in the paintings of his friend, contemporary artist Liu Xiaodong.
“The first images were shot in 2009, when I went to the places where Xiaodong created his paintings,” says Wang. “From there, I expanded the scope of what I wanted to do and went around China, creating tableaux with my cameras just like I was making a painting. I chose to shoot with film – that was the time when we were still using celluloid – and I even used a four-by-three aspect ratio, to be close to what films should be like.”
“Chinese Portrait” is a record of how China has changed over the past decade. Images of people leading provincial, traditional lives – fishermen mending their nets by the sea, potato farmers cultivating windswept fields, Buddhists and Muslims practicing their religious rituals – are juxtaposed with sequences showing modern offices, bustling urban junctions, and beaches bursting with revellers.
As he has done in the past through fiction, Wang uses the documentary form to point at the disparity between rich and poor. The urban bourgeoisie are shown spending their holidays in the sun while the rural underclass pray for rain in China’s arid interior.
While not exactly offering a hard-hitting cri de coeur about the country’s problems, Wang provides plenty for the viewer to reflect on – which, in the current political climate in China, is an achievement in itself.