Film Series: Fall 2006

Sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Study
All films with English subtitles

September 14, 7:00 p.m.

Senior Year by Zhou Hao
95 min, 2005, Chinese w/English subtitles
155 Nicholson Hall

Senior Year

In the No.1 High School of Wuping County in western Fujian Province, 78 high school seniors have only one chance to advance to higher education, through taking the annual national entrance exam. Eighty percent of students in the school come from surrounding rural areas. Their parents tell them that if they do not want to become farmers, the entrance exam to high education is their only chance to change their lives. The documentary records the hardworking, high-pressured, and lonely lives of a group of seventeen- and eighteen-year-old Hakka descendants who are high school seniors at the No.1 High School of Wuping County. As one student puts it, "I can't stand the idea of going through another senior year."

September 21, 7:00 p.m.

Four Sisters from Baima by Zhang Tongdao
68 min, 2003, Tibetan w/English subtitles
155 Nicholson Hall

Four Sisters from Baima

The Baima tribe is a Tibetan branch that still maintained primitive matriarchy and lived on hunting not long ago. In 1999, as a protective measure against the disastrous floods in the area where the Baima tribe has always lived, the government decided to blockade the mountain area and hunting was no longer allowed. This forced the tribe to change its traditional lifestyle. The four sisters in this documentary are the most beautiful girls in the Baima tribe. Blessed with native talents in singing and dancing, they are among the first to explore the local tourist business. They made money through performing for tourists and this caused controversy among the villagers. However, some of them followed the four sisters' example and joined the tourism business. The once quiet village has been growing restless ever since.

Mei Mei by Gao Tian
82 min, 2005, Chinese w/ English subtitles
155 Nicholson Hall

Mei Mei

Mei Mei is a transvestite male actor who is eager to find his true love. In 2004 he finally meets the man of his dreams who also accepts Mei Mei as he is. They have a public wedding ceremony. Mei Mei is very confident about his marriage and the new life ahead. His friends throw a farewell party for him before he leaves for Shanghai where he and his love embark on a new life together. However, things are not as perfect as planned, and his marriage proves harder than expected. Finally Mei Mei comes back to Beijing. He feels uncomfortable around old friends and experiences financial problems.

September 28, 7:00 p.m.

Tian Feng and His Institute by Liu Xiaojin
180 min, 2005, Chinese w/English subtitles
155 Nicholson Hall.

Tian Feng and His Institute

In November 1993, Tian Feng, a first-class composer in the China Central Philharmonic arrived in Yunnan Province with a donation of 100,000 RMB from a military base in Tibet. With the money Tian established the Yunnan Institute for Preservation of Minority Cultures on the original site of the former Southwestern Forestry Institute in Anning County, thirty kilometers west of the provincial capital city of Kunming. This was to be China's first private institute to preserve traditional ethnic minority cultures. The teachers and students of the Institute brought together by Tian were from remote villages. The teachers were all local talents. They taught the students their respective ethnic music and dances. Apart from tuition waivers, the students were also provided with free boarding. The opening of the institute attracted much attention; some hailed it as "China's No. 1 School." Seven years later, in June 2000, the school had to be disbanded due to financial difficulties. Having taken ten years to finish (1994-2005), this documentary records the lives and struggles of the students and teachers under the leadership of Tian Feng.

October 5, 7:00 p.m.

Continuous Journey by Ali Kazimi 
87 min, 2004
155 Nicholson Hall

Continuous Journey

In 1914, Gurdit Singh, a Sikh entrepreneur based in Singapore, chartered a Japanese ship, the Komagata Maru, to carry Indian immigrants to Canada. On May 23, 1914, the ship arrived in Vancouver Harbor with 376 passengers aboard: 340 Sikhs; 24 Muslims and 12 Hindus. Many of the men on board were veterans of the British Indian Army and believed that it was their right as British subjects to settle anywhere in the Empire they had fought to defend and expand. They were wrong... Unlike the Chinese and the Japanese, people from British India were excluded by a regulation that appeared fair, but in reality, was an effective way of keeping people from India out of Canada until 1948. As a direct result, only a half-mile from Canadian shores, the Komagata Maru was surrounded by immigration boats and the passengers were held in communicado--virtual prisoners on the ship. Thus began a dramatic stand-off which would escalate over the course of two months, becoming one of the most infamous incidents in Canadian history. The consequences of the incident were dire: informants within the community were murdered, and a key player for the Empire was assassinated. Upon its return to India, the Komagata Maru encountered hostile British authorities who fired on the passengers, suspecting them to be seditious. Over forty people went missing or were killed. Some of the passengers escaped, including Gurdit Singh, who lived to tell the "true story" of the Komagata Maru. This film is an inquiry into the largely ignored history of Canada's exclusion of the South Asians by a little known immigration policy called the Continuous Journey Regulation of 1908.

October 12, 7:00 p.m.

Repatriation by Kim Dong-won 
148 min, 2004, Korean w/English subtitles
155 Nicholson Hall


Viewers who have watched Hong Ki-seon's The Road Taken (2003), Jang Sun-woo's Passage to Buddha (1993), or Park Kwang-su's Chilsu and Mansu (1988) will have seen references to Korea's long-term prisoners of conscience. Jailed for their Communist beliefs, and refusing to renounce their ideology despite torture and intimidation, many of these men spent decades (up to 45 years) in South Korean prisons. Only in the 1990s, with pressure applied from Amnesty International and against the backdrop of democratic reforms, did large numbers of unconverted prisoners gain their freedom. The films mentioned above, to no surprise, are primarily concerned with the time that the prisoners of conscience spent in jail. However Repatriation begins as the men are released from prison, focusing on their efforts to adapt to South Korean society and their campaign to be repatriated to North Korea. By starting his documentary at a time when most news agencies were switching off their cameras, the director gives us a rare insight into the complete story of these men and how their lives have been shaped by their convictions.

October 19, 7:00 p.m.

Habitual Sadness by Byun Young-Joo
98 min, 1996, Korean w/English subtitles
155 Nicholson Hall (video)

Habitual Sadness

During World War II an estimated 200,000 women, mostly Korean, were forced by the Japanese into sexual slavery. This experience scarred the women, who hid their shame in silence. Now in their sixties and seventies, the surviving women have dared to speak of their suffering at the hands of their Japanese oppressors. This film captures the spirit and spunk of a group of survivors who live together in a sharing community. Amidst the activities of everyday life, they laugh, voice their tough-minded views, and care intensely for one another. One of the women, dying of cancer, expresses her past in boldly colored paintings. Habitual Sadness is a reminder of women's vulnerability during war. It is also a testament to the strength of former victims who have exchanged their painful memories for the warmth of communal life.

October 26, 7:00 p.m.

A by Tatsuya Mori 
135 min, 1998, Japanese w/English subtitles
155 Nicholson Hall.


"Joking aside, I think there's a real risk of us being demonized," confides one of the members of Aum Shinrikyo (Aum Supreme Truth) to another in the privacy of the infamous religious cult's headquarters in Kameido, Tokyo. It's a classic piece of understatement considering what has now come to light about the sect after it hit the international headlines when, on March 20th 1995, poisonous sarin gas was released at Kasumigaseki station on the Hibiya line of the Tokyo subway system, immediately killing 12 people and injuring almost 4000 (exact figures are rather hard to ascertain - many people have subsequently died or been left brain damaged by the after effects). This is where Tatsuya Mori steps in. A former actor (he appeared in Sogo Ishii's 30-minute fiction Shuffle in 1980, and a number of early works by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, including his Nikkatsu produced Kandagawa Wars in 1983) and a TV documentary-maker whose previous work includes a profile on wrestling midgets, Mori spent two years behind the scenes with the cult members during the trial of its charismatic blind guru Asahara (real name Chizuo Matsumoto) in the months that followed the incident. Filmed during the summer of 1996 when the repercussions of the incident were being acutely felt, Mori assembled the stunning documentary A.  This incisive documentary examines the much-vilified Japanese cult known as the Aum Shinrikyo, to whom the 1995 subway terrorist attacks are attributed. Director Mori follows the group's press secretary, as well as a number of members, over the course of two years, gaining an unprecedented amount of access to a notoriously retiring sect. (From review by Jasper Sharp)

October 29, 1-10 p.m.

West of the Tracks by Wang Bing
9 hours, 2003, Chinese w/English subtitles
155 Nicholson Hall

West of the Tracks

Wang Bing's tripartite nine-hour documentary is a portrait of Tie Xi, the industrial district in northeastern China. Once the heart of state-run heavy industry, Tie Xi is now a scene of decay, as economic reforms, bankruptcies, relocation, and demolition have left many factories empty and entire communities jobless. Wang follows the old railway line that bisects the industrial area to interview locals about their precarious situation. In Rust, he spends an entire year with one community as it copes with the disintegration of its village. In Remnants, he portrays children who, with no prospects for the future, still manage to find small pleasures in everyday life. And in Rails, he follows the old railway track past dying factories, visiting the people who have stayed behind.

November 2, 8:00 p.m.

Stone Dream by Hu Tai-li
79 min, 2004, Mandarin and Taiwanese dialect w/English subtitles
Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Avenue
Followed by Q&A with filmmaker Hu Tai-li

Stone Dream

This film touches the sensitive issue of national and ethnic identity in Taiwan. In the first Taiwanese observational documentary, "Liu Pi-Chia," made by director Chen Yao-Chi in 1965, the main character Liu Pi-Chia was press-ganged into the army in China and came over to Taiwan with President Chiang Kai-Shek. After several decades, the director Hu Tai-Li unexpectedly met Liu in a village on the banks of the Mukua River. This new immigrant village consists of mainland veterans whose wives are from different ethnic groups, mostly aborigines. Stones, the most important symbols of this film, link Liu Pi-Chia's generation, who worked hard on the stony riverbed to reclaim land, and the new generation of Liu Pi-Chia's son, whose interest is collecting rose stones for artistic and economic purposes. Liu Pi-Chia and his family are like rose stones, which are black and unattractive on the outside, but cut open or polished, reveal wonderful scenes. This film is accompanied by classical Chinese lute music.

November 3

3:35-5:30 p.m.
Tales of the Night Fairies by Shohini Ghosh
74 min, 2002, Bengali w/English subtitles
155 Nicholson Hall
Post-screening Q&A with filmmaker Shohini Ghosh, moderated by Jigna Desai

Five sex workers and the filmmaker embark on a journey of storytelling. The film explores the power of collective organizing and resistance while reflecting upon contemporary debates around sex work. The simultaneously expansive and labyrinthine city of Calcutta forms the backdrop for the personal and musical journeys of storytelling. The film portrays the struggles and aspirations of thousands of sex workers who constitute the DMSC (Durbar Mahila Samanyay Committee or the Durbar Women's Collaborative Committee), an initiative that emerged from the Shonagachi HIV/AIDS Intervention Project.  A collective of men, women and transgendered sex workers, DMSC demands decriminalization of adult sex work and the right to form a trade union.

7:30 p.m.
The Men in the Tree by Lalit Vachani
98 min, 2002, Hindi/English/Marathi/Sanskrit w/ English subtitles
155 Nicholson Hall
Post-screening Q&A with filmmaker Lalit Vachani, moderated by Simona Sawhney

The Men in the Tree

This documentary is a follow-up to Vachini's 1993 film, The Boy in the Branch, about the indoctrination of young Hindu boys by a branch of the RSS, the foremost Hindu fundamentalist organization in India. In early 1993, Lalit Vachani and the Wide Eye Film team completed a documentary film, The Boy in the Branch, for Channel 4 Television, U.K. Set at the headquarters of the RSS in Vachani’s 1993 film, The Boy in the Branch, explored the indoctrination of four young Hindu boys in a branch of the RSS, one of the foremost Hindu nationalist organizations in India. On December 6, 1992 (as the film was nearing completion) members of the RSS and its affiliates destroyed the Babri mosque at Ayodhya. Where were the four boys when the mosque was razed to the ground? What did they think about the deaths of at least 1500 people (mostly Muslim) in the riots that followed the demolition? What happened to them between 1992 and 2000, as the RSS and Hindu nationalism had moved from the margins to the center of Indian politics? Vachani’s new film, The Men in the Tree, returns to the subjects of his previous film, eight years later, to document the setbacks and chilling triumphs of Hindu nationalism. The film raises crucial questions about Hindu fundamentalism, "long-distance nationalism," and international funding sources for the Hindu Right, and the complex intersections of religion, culture, and ideology.

November 4

1:00-2:20 p.m.
Glacier by Zhaxi Nima
31 min, 2005, Tibetan w/English subtitles
155 Nicholson Hall
Post-Screening Q&A with the filmmaker Zhaxi Nima

Zhaxi Nima

Glacier is the third documentary film to emerge from the Participatory Video Education project, a fruitful result of Tibetan villagers’ own film projects documenting their culture and life with the cooperation of the Baima Mountain Research Institute under the support of Yunnan Institute of Social Science. The filmmaker and photographer is Zhaxi Nima, a poet from the village of Ming Yong, a small village with a population of 50 households and 280 people, located under the foot of Kawagebo mountain, the holiest mountain for Yunnan Tibetans. Ming Yong became famous after the tragic 1991 avalanche that killed an entire team of 17 mountain climbers, mostly Japanese and Chinese; this climb was the first time the mountain was opened for climbing by the Chinese government, an action opposed by the Tibetan people. The incident reconfirmed the Tibetan belief of cosmological justice and the importance of ecological balance manifested by the anger of the holy mountain.  But since the much-publicized tragic event, tourism of the Ming Yong glacier has been developing rapidly, ominously paralleling the equally if not faster receding and melting of the glacier within Kawagebo mountain. “Glacier” documents the intriguing phenomenon and villagers’ reaction towards the impacts, both cultural and economical, from outside the villages of Shangri-la district. Contextualized within the threat of ever accelerating global warming effects, the plight of “the tears of Kawagebo” (a poem by another filmmaker in the project, Tshe Ring Sgrol Ma) and the disappearing realities of Shangri-la, “Glacier” not only gradually provikes shocking awakenings but also gently reminds us of the far reaching confluences and the irrevocable destruction we may only just begin to realize.

2:30-5:00 p.m.
Yunnan Films including Jade Green Station by the poet Yu Jian, shot and edited with the help of He Yuan and Yang Kun.
Chinese w/ English subtitles
155 Nicholson Hall

Yunnan Films including Jade Green Station

Set in a small town in Southeastern Yunnan where a railway had brought a few decades of commercial bustle and a sense of cosmopolitanism, only to be lost to the wider forces of history. In 1910, the French commissioned the Chinese to build a rail connection between Yunnan province and French Indochina. Soon the sleepy village of Bise (Jade) became a lively stopover. The film observes with great subtlety the daily life along the railroad tracks. Local elders recall the glory days of the town, including memories (and rumors) of the foreigners who had formerly lived there or passed through. Others describe life under Mao-era collectivization, or disputes regarding marriage customs in changing times. A film about history, decay, storytelling and remembering. Directed by the poet Yu Jian, the film's shooting and editing were also extensively assisted by He Yuan and Yang Kun, graduates of the East Asia Institute of Visual Anthropology in Yunnan, and it is indeed a unique blend of ethnography and visual poetry.

7:30 p.m.
Into the Picture Scroll—The Tale of Yamanaka Tokiwa by Sumiko Haneda
100 min, Japanese w/English subtitles, 2004, 35mm
Oak Street Cinema, 309 Oak Street SE
Post-screening Q&A with the filmmaker and scholar Livia Monnet

Into the Picture Scroll—The Tale of Yamanaka  Tokiwa

The film revolves around the picture scroll "Yamanaka Tokiwa," which is said to be the work of the painter Iwasa Matabei, who lived between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The theme of the picture scroll is the tale of Ushiwaka-maru and his mother, Lady Tokiwa, which was a popular joruri puppet theater drama in early modern times. By introducing Matabei's background, light is shed on his state of mind as he painted the picture scroll. The rhythm of the joruri musical accompaniment and the editing is exquisite.

November 9, 7:00 p.m.

Ode to Mt. Hayachine by Sumiko Haneda
185 min, 1982, 16mm, Japanese w/ English subtitles
155 Nicholson Hall

Ode to Mt. Hayachine

This film depicts people living in a rapidly changing mountain region who continue to perform devotional dances which have their origin in prayer. In the foothills of Mt. Hayachine the devotional kagura dance continues nearly unchanged today. Even from the first moment that director Haneda was charmed by Hayachine’s kagura dance, the mountain villages that were home to these participants had already begun to disappear. Haneda matches changes in the film’s style to changes that took place over the years even before she began filming. From images of a traditional style home being torn down to the annual planting of tobacco crops, she paints a portrait of the people who maintain tradition as their surroundings changed.

November 16, 7:00 p.m.

Viva Tonal: The Dance Age by Guo Zhen-di and Jian Wei-shi
104 min, 2003, Taiwanese and Mandarin w/English subtitles
155 Nicholson Hall

Viva Tonal

"I'm a cultured woman, traveling about footloose and fancy-free." So begins a lilting tune from Taiwan's "Dance Age" of the 1920s and '30s, a paradoxical time when the island's occupation by Japan also brought youth culture and a measure of artistic freedom. Women smoked cigarettes, love scandals were rife and risqué Taiwanese pop was born. VIVA TONAL explores this time through the conduit of Li Keun-cheng, a Taipei oldies deejay with an obsessive passion for '30s music. Li takes the viewer on a voyage of discovery to meet surviving singers, composers and record aficionados of the era. This lively historical documentary mixes engaging interviews with catchy songs, hauntingly deteriorated period footage, and reenactments of the great unrequited romance between the lovely chanteuse Sun Sun and her composer. Most poignant are moments when past and present intersect: elderly musicians revisiting the coffee shops of their youth and a techno deejay practicing '30s dance moves following the choreography chart from a record cover.

The Cherry Tree with Gray Blossoms by Sumiko Haneda
42 min, 1977, 16mm, Japanese w/English subtitles
155 Nicholson Hall

The Cherry Tree with Gray Blossoms

The poignant focal point for this film is a cherry tree that is over
1000 years old. Beginning with the tree, the director then explores the
families and environment around the tree. The editing and music
contribute to the sense of a haunting past contained within the solid
structure of an ancient natural wonder.

November 30, 7:00 p.m.

The Play Goes On by Lalit Vachani
84 min, 2005, Hindi w/English subtitles
155 Nicholson Hall

The Play Goes On

Natak Jari Hai (“The Play Goes On”) is a documentary about JANAM (The People's Theatre Front), the New Delhi–based socialist street theater group that never stopped performing in the face of dramatic political transformation and personal tragedy. The film explores the motivations and ideals of the JANAM actors and their vision of resistance and change as they perform their 'People's Theatre' in diverse parts of India. It brings to life the world of socialist theatre through the words of JANAM's members, and through a reflective portrayal of the group's greatest tragedy–the assassination of its convenor Safdar Hashmi in 1989. Finally, the film asks the question, “what does it mean to perform socialist “agit-prop” theater in India in a global era of increasing intolerance and inequality?”

December 7, 7:00 p.m.

Doctor Zhang by Huang Ruxiang
90 mins, 2005, Chinese w/English subtitles 
155 Nicholson Hall

Doctor Zhang

Dr. Zhang is a man around fifty who has a long-cherished dream to work in Russia as an interpreter. Forced to quit school in 1966 when the Cultural Revolution just started, he was determined to teach himself Russian. Later, he became a regular auditor in the Foreign Languages Department of Sichuan University and studied for seventeen years, hence the nickname “Doctor Zhang.” In the meantime, he scratched out a living as a cleaner for the school and lived in a basement. His chance came when in 2002 the Agriculture Bureau of Sichuan Province started recruiting students majoring in Russian as part of a labor export program. Dr. Zhang contacted the Bureau. While he waited for his passport, Dr. Zhang participated in a TV talk show in Hebei Province. However, after he came back, he discovered that the Bureau had decided to remove him from the export labor list. Dr. Zhang had to go back to his original life and kept hoping for another opportunity. One day, he got a phone call that assured him that he could go to Russia now. He began to pack happily and boarded the train to Russia.

Reviewing DocuLens Asia. Bonus screenings and looking back on the series and conference.