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American Filmmakers in China, Part IV
by Bart Weiss 13 Dec 2011

Guest Blogger Bart Weiss writes about his trip to China for the American Documentary Showcase. This is his fourth post from the trip.


Guest blogger Bart Weiss is the Artistic Director of VideoFest. He will be blogging from China during his trip for the American Documentary Showcase. Read his previous post here.

Harrod Blank and I went off to the Beijing Film Academy to be on a panel about distribution and survival for the documentary filmmaker at the iDocs film festival. Harrod talked about his experience with his two feature docs:  Wild Wheels, which was a big financial success,  and Automorphosis, which did well in the festival world but could not get a theatrical deal. I, of course, talked about new trends online and other new forms of distribution, which the crowd seemed very interested in. Also on the panel was Yang Li-Chou, a documentary maker from Taiwan (who had some very cool orange shoes). He talked about how in Taiwan there are lots of documentary films in theaters, and that audiences are very receptive. The moderator, Peter Wintonick from Canada, talked about co-productions with European TV networks, and Bob Coonnely and Sophie Raymond talked about their success in getting their documentary in theaters in Australia. But the highlight for me was a filmmaker from the audience who is shooting a documentary in a hospital by day and editing the work and putting it online each night. When he first looked for funding, he didn’t have much luck. But he eventually raised $100,000 for the project though its online presence. Wow, this crowd sourcing works.

While we’re on the subject of social networking, things are a bit different. You can’t get Facebook (so sorry if I have not replied to anyone) nor can you get YouTube or Vimeo. (China does have its own version of YouTube, which loosely translates as “couch potato.”)

The performing arts center

After the panel, Harrod and I had a chance to see Tiananmen Square, which was much bigger than I imagined. It’s the third largest public square in the world. We also got to see the new performing arts center, which looks like a big egg.

After a nice noodle dinner, we went to the Beijing Foreign Studies University. While Harrod’s film was playing, we did a video interview about the film and the state of documentary film in the U.S. After we went through the regular questions, some of the students working on the crew asked about creativity and being an artist. The film we have been showing all week, about art cars, has gotten viewers thinking about their own creativity. They have been battling between fitting in, which is big in Chinese society, and expressing themselves. One girl asked if she should be an artist or not. She was very moved by the support she got, but who knows what she will do? After the taping, we did a long Q&A with the students who saw the film. Many of the same themes were discussed, but in more detail. Then we found out that two people came from far away to be at this screening – young filmmakers living in a smaller town and wondering what to do. They also asked some nuts-and-bolts questions about asking questions during an interview, some sound issues and whether or not to use narration. They really seemed to get it and got excited.

This morning, I am heading out to do a panel at the iDocs fest on festivals, which should be fun. So far, the weather has not been as cold as I was expecting, and there has been less pollution than I expected. I hope that holds up.

Our interview about the film and the state of documentary film in the U.S.