Remembering Writer-director Peng Xiaolian

By Louisa Wei

Film director and writer Peng Xiaolian 彭小莲 passed away on June 19, 2019. Below I share some memories about her.

In May 2003, Shanghai film director Peng Xiaolian called me and asked if I was interested in working on a documentary about the “Hu Feng Counterrevolutionary Clique” case (the PRC’s first large-scale literary persecution). By that point, I had only met her once at the Hong Kong International Film Festival of 2002, but we had been writing to each other for about two years. What’s more important is that I had already read her book about her parents: Their Times (他们的岁月). I agreed to work with her on the documentary almost right away and told her I would start to look for funding. I called her back after just a few hours, because I found that we could apply to the International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam’s script development grant, but we only had one week before the deadline. Xiaolian sent me a story in Chinese the next day, and a day later I came up with a proposal and a working title for the film: Storm under the Sun (红日风暴). I couriered the proposal four days later. At the end of June, we were notified that we were one of the 17 recipients of funding out of 180 applicants, though it was only 4000 euros. In July, we started filming in Shanghai. We got a fast start indeed. The path of my life as an assistant professor suddenly changed.

Over the next three years, we took over 20 trips together to interview members of the “Hu Feng Clique.” We were warmly welcomed by everyone and engaged almost immediately in frank conversations. Xiaolian introduced me as a “young professor from Hong Kong” and invited people to tell their stories to me, because I could standd in for the majority of the audience who would know almost nothing about this part of history. Xiaolian was often emotional during the interviews, and I willingly played the role of the cool-headed camerawoman. I shot most of the interviews except for two. Our interviewees were mostly poets and writers—some of them prolific—so I had to read over three hundred books to prepare for these interviews. While taking these trips, Xiaolian and I had numerous conversations, mostly about her feature films, Shanghai culture, and her life stories.

I had already begun research on female directors of Chinese language cinema, and if my approach was different from others, I have to thank Xiaolian for her sharing creative skills and frustrations about working in the industry. Some people had once asked her to summarize the theme of Shanghai Women (假装没感觉, 2002), so she asked me: “what is the film about to you?” I replied, “this is a film about three generations of women searching for their living and spiritual spaces.” She liked my response. In order to prove myself useful, I used this tag line and introduced the film to the Turin International Women’s Film Festival. Turin paid for both Xiaolian and me to fly to Turin, so we went on a trip together to Italy. I later introduced her films to the Women’s International Film Festival in Seoul in 2008, where she was invited as Director in Focus along with five of her films. Tickets for all of her films sold out. The festival also invited me to be a judge, so we met once again in Seoul. She always liked my idea of writing a book on women directors, so she introduced me to several other Shanghai women directors like Huang Shuqin 黄蜀芹 and Shi Shujun 史蜀君. I also translated the English subtitles for some of Xiaolian’s films, such as Shanghai Story (美丽上海, 2004) and Shanghai Rumba (上海伦巴, 2006). After making Shanghai Kids (我坚强的小船, 2008), she began to have trouble locating funding for her next film.

Beginning in 2002, she came to Hong Kong several times and did lots of transcriptions from the tapes we shot for Storm under the Sun (2009). She worked 10 hours a day. I also worked day and night. When she arrived in Hong Kong in June or July of 2007, she was in shock that I was eight months pregnant and still trying to make the IDFA deadline in August. But we had no time to lose. I gave her a script I put together. She revised it and recorded the voice over. I gave her an edited version in the morning; she responded with a list of 150 revisions to be done. Storm under the Sun’s early version went to Amsterdam in December 2007, but she did not go. The final version premiered in Hong Kong in 2009. She did not come either. I was a little disappointed at the time; if she had showed up and participated in the sharing sessions with the audience, it would have been a much more unforgettable experience. I understood her reason though: “what do I do if they ban me from making film?” Storm under the Sun is still showing its influence. After being exhibited at NYC’s Guggenheim Museum curated by Ai Weiwei last year, it is now available on Kanopy.

Xiaolian was never banned for political reasons from filmmaking, but she was not so accommodating when it came to investors. Ten years had passed before she could make another feature film: Please Remember Me (请你记住我, 2018). I find in this film, the “me” combines actress Huang Zongying 黄宗英, Shanghai film culture, and film—the plastic medium that records light and sound. The film’s title sounded like a cry of despair to me, even though the film was beautifully done, and ironically, in digital format. All her other feature films were shot on celluloid.

Between 2007 and 2017, she published four non-fiction books based on real people and real lives, as well as three collections of film journals. She wrote tirelessly. I read all her books with amazement. When she could not make feature films, she felt a deep sense of failure. I started to write an essay in English in an attempt to show that she was a unique writer with a distinct female subjectivity that seamlessly combines history and emotion, words and images. She was often called a member of China’s “Fifth Generation” of filmmakers, but she never liked the designation. Whereas her Beijing Film Academy classmates all went “mainstream,” she stayed with the humanistic and realist films she believed in.

In the past two years, the WeChat platform suddenly began to help her claim a lot of readers. Excerpts of her old and new books, her reviews and short stories, and interviews about her new film have been circulated on the platform. She was surprised to see the power of this new platform. I can foresee that her works will continue to be discovered by more readers.

My last chat with her was three days ago, when she told me she had a new book coming out from Chinese University of Hong Kong Press, titled Editor Zhong Shuhe: A Documentary on Paper. I knew she had been working on the book for a while and was eager to read it. She told me to bring some copies for her to Shanghai when the book comes out next month. Yesterday came the shocking news of her sudden passing. In retrospect, I find the title of this last book really meaningful. When she could no longer make films, she would write. Did she already know that this last “documentary” would stay on paper only?

June 20, 2019 Hong Kong

Source: MCLC Resource Centre

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Chairwoman of Camsing, Hong Kong Group that Owns Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment, Arrested in China

by Patrick Brzeski

The detainment of Camsing’s founder Lo Ching by the Shanghai Public Security Bureau erased $800 million from the company’s market capitalization as soon as shares began trading Monday.

Camsing International, the Hong Kong firm that owns Marvel visionary Stan Lee’s former company POW! Entertainment, saw its shares crash 90 percent on Monday after it emerged that its chairwoman had been arrested in China.

To read the full article, please go to The Hollywood Reporter

‘The Farewell’ Makes the Asian American Immigrant Experience Feel Universal

by Nicole Clark

Awkwafina’s Billi is a Chinese American woman who struggles with her family’s secrets, but she’s also all of us and our inherited burdens.

All families are inscrutable in their own ways, and have their own forms of internal culture. It’s rare for a film to be able to telegraph just one of these ideas—and The Farewell stunningly achieves both.

To read the full article, please go to Vice

Q&A: Ann Hu On Being A Chinese-Born Filmmaker And Foreign Film Distribution In China

Ann Hu is a Chinese-born writer, producer, and director who is known for her work on films such as her award-winning debut, Shadow Magic, and her upcoming feature film, Confetti. She is the founder and president of Media Assets Inc., a media investment company that specializes in financing media projects, film productions, the arts, and other ventures. Hu is also the co-founder of Media Alive, a film distribution company that is dedicated to bringing international films to the Chinese market.

Hu will be a participant on the consumer and retail panel at SupChina’s third annual Women’s Conference, which will take place on Monday, May 20, at the Harmonie Club of New York. Before the event, she spoke with us about how she became a filmmaker and foreign film distribution in China.

For the full article, please visit SUPChina

‘Leftover Women’: Tribeca Review

Three unmarried career women struggle with outdated social mores in China

 In China, career-focused women who haven’t married by their late-twenties are often referred to as “sheng nu” or “leftover women”, a derogatory term to begin with, and especially so when one considers that many have achieved tremendous professional success in highly competitive sectors. Returning to China after making an impact with their internet addiction treatment documentary Web Junkie (2013), Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia follow three “leftover women” who are trying to reconcile the outmoded yet still firmly held expectations of their parents with more individualistic goals. The result is an emotionally complex piece of personal portraiture that intimately reveals the extent to which traditional attitudes still dominate Chinese society regardless of its globalised surface.

For the full review, please visit Screen Daily

Dialogue with Filmmakers 2019: Jewel Maranan 

Jewel Maranan 
Dialogue with Filmmakers 2019: Jewel Maranan 
與紀錄片導演對話:珠慧瑪拉婻
Speaking for the silent from a small town near Manila
以影像展現菲律賓小鎮中的噤聲底層
Jewel Maranan is an independent documentary filmmaker and producer from the Philippines. She started working for independent documentaries in 2008, tackling conflict situations in Manila. Throughout the years, she has developed a deep interest in the ways by which history inches through ordinary life. Jewel is an active participant in efforts to help develop Southeast Asian documentary through the SEA DocNet, a network of documentary professionals in Southeast Asia.
Her 2011 production TONDO, BELOVED: TO WHAT ARE THE POOR BORN? is a geopolitical exploration of life before birth in the smallest home in the seams of Manila’s premier international port. 6 years later, Jewel fixed her critical eye on the lives in the shadow of Tondo’s ever-engulfing port and finished her latest work IN THE CLAWS OF A CENTURY WANTING (official selection to 43rd Hong Kong International Film Festival). It is a filmic symphony of increasing everyday violence in the aspiration for a global city.
菲律賓獨立紀錄片導演及製作人珠慧瑪拉婻,2008年起從事獨立紀錄片工作,關注馬尼拉社會中所發生的衝突事件。多年來,她對歷史如何漸次地影響人們日常生活產生濃厚興趣。她亦致力發展東南亞紀錄片,積極參與由歌德學院所創立的SEA DocNet,透過此協助紀錄片工作者的網絡,鼓勵多元創作、挖掘被遺忘的當地文化。
2011年作品《貧者為誰而生》展現馬尼拉湯都的兩個平行時空:全球化下的繁忙貨櫃港口,以及港口邊緣掙扎於生存線上的棚屋人家。六年後她再次以貼近局內人的視角潛行湯都貨櫃區,完成《魔爪下的日與夜》,入選本屆香港國際電影節。菲律賓官僚於火災後劃定十米遷移線,離地政策令居民不屈發聲。藉着捕捉四個貧窮家庭的生活,瑪拉婻除了展示生死相接之日常,更提問湯都主權誰屬。她對生態的敏感觀察,有層次地介入天地意象,識穿全球化反自然而行的昇平謊話。
Date: Thursday 21 March, 2019
Time: 7:30pm
Venue: Studio Room 303, Chong Yuet Ming Cultural Centre, The University of Hong Kong
Guest Speaker: Ms. Jewel Maranan
Moderator: Ms. Ruby Yang (Project Director of Hong Kong Documentary Initiative)
Language: Lecture in English
Registration: http://bit.ly/2GKsL1y
Dialogue with Filmmakers 2019: Programme Details