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Yunfest 2009: What to watch out for

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Note: Jeff Crosby is president of Crosby & Co. Art Consulting, based in Kunming. He has been working in China's film scene for a number of years, as his company translated and edited the English documentation for this year's Yunfest – which starts this Saturday - we've asked him to put together a preview for GoKunming readers:

As a testament to the progress of the festival and China's documentary film scene, this year's Yunfest has reaped a dizzying variety of films. They'll be playing all day for a week in three different screening rooms at the Yunnan Provincial Library.

Since all of this can seem a bit daunting, I've put together a list of recommendations, based on films I know and the ones the curators are excited about. Of course, you are encouraged to explore the festival for yourself. If you can't make it to all the films you want to see, remember that they will be archived and available for viewing at the library's video archive. Films marked with an (E) have English subtitles.

The full schedule can be downloaded at yunfest.org.

Filmmakers to watch out for
Li Yifan (李一凡)and Yan Yu (焉雨) made waves back in 2005 with their award-winning documentary about the doomed Three Gorges town of Fengjie, entitled Before the Flood. It was seen as a beautiful, objective and groundbreaking look at the lives of several individuals as they prepared to move out of this ancient city. Both have films in the festival this year. Yan Yu has followed along the same path with Before the Flood 2—Gong Tan (E), a look at another town being forced to move for yet another dam.

Li Yifan has been busy exploring cinematic language, and his efforts have attracted much attention from the contemporary art scene. His submission, Village Archive: Longwangcun premiered in Beijing last year in a joint exhibition with artist Zhang Xiaotao. The film covers a Chinese village throughout the year in a peculiar archival format with absolutely no narrative structure whatsoever. The critics are calling it art. Based on their past performance, these are two directors to watch out for.

Ron Havilio is an award-winning Israeli filmmaker and the subject of this year's retrospective. Fragments – Jerusalem (E) is a six-hour film in seven chapters that traces the history of modern Israel through the history of his own family. In Potosi: The Journey (E), Ron and his family return to the magical Andean city that he and his wife discovered on their honeymoon twenty years before. Mr. Havilio was invited for the retrospective because his films, aside from being beautiful, discard with the old notions of anonymity and objectivity, using highly personal accounts to reveal a deeper truth. This mirrors a recent trend among young Chinese filmmakers. His workshop, held at 2pm on the 24th, should also be very interesting.

Wu Haohao (吴昊昊) seems to be on everyone's lips. This young unknown filmmaker submitted four films this year, and three of them were selected. People's Artist Jia Jinshu (E) is an official entry in the competition segment. It follows a self-published novelist as he wanders the country. Kun 1 Action (E) is described by the director as a "quasi-religious tribute to Liang Kun", whoever that is. Forbid Silence (E) is a montage of scenes from the filmmaker's frequent trips between Taiyuan and Chongqing. What all these films have in common is that they defy categorization. People who have seen them tell me that Wu Haohao has the potential to become a driving force behind a new generation of documentary filmmakers. He's worth keeping an eye on.

Films to watch out for
Disorder (E) jumped out at me right away, not just because of the interesting title (in Chinese it reads something like "now is the future of the past"), but because of its unconventional approach. It is basically a collection of footage from strange events around the city of Guangzhou, including a runaway pig on a highway, and it is woven together with the soundtrack to create a visual "symphony". It should make for a strange portrait of this unique city.

Wheat Harvest (E) is about the double life of Niu Hongmao, who spends most of the year in Beijing as a prostitute, but returns home in the summer to help her ailing father with the wheat harvest.

For those interested in Chinese hydropower issues, Flood is an interesting look at the still-lingering aftermath of China's first major dam project, the Sanmen Gorge Dam.

Ghost Town (E) is a portrait of an abandoned county seat in Nujiang. Aside from the interesting subject matter, people are telling me it's worth a look for its cinematic poetry.

I got to see The 7th Medical Ward (E) last year in Beijing, and I highly recommend it. It follows the lives of four patients at a medical ward in Xiamen that was established specifically for vagrants with mental disabilities. It is at times hilarious, depressing, exhilarating and terrifying.

Lemon (E) looks like it will be an interesting glimpse into China's enigmatic '90's generation. It follows a group of students in Guangzhou as they train for the upcoming art institute entrance exams, fool around, and talk about their lives.

Two Seasons (E) takes a close look at China's education issues through the students, their parents and teachers. It's gotten high marks from festival staff for its complex approach to this difficult issue.

Three Small Animals (E) and Yueming's Holiday (E) both focus on poor children and the lives they lead. Animals is about three children in a coal-mining town, and Holiday is about a child who spends his holiday scavenging a landfill to pay for his school fees.

Media Mélanges
I'm just going to come out and recommend this entire segment. In an effort to promote exchange between filmmakers across the region, Yunfest has invited several organizations from across Southeast Asia to show their films and participate in the forums. Here's what I want to watch:

The Taste of Noodles (E) is a quest for the best noodles on the Mekong. Anyone who considers himself a foodie is required to attend.

Human Zoo (E) is about the plight of the Paduang People. A small ethnic group that has fled to Thailand from Myanmar, their strange custom of ringing women's necks with brass coils has put them on the cover of National Geographic, and led the Thai authorities to turn their refugee camp into a tourist attraction.

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Comments

cool intro jeff - they all sound interesting, can't wait to see them!

maybe someone should post some info about how to access the films at yunnan library in a wrap-up piece.

will there be any people's choice style voting going on during the festival?

Not sure about voting, but I do know about the archive. Yunfest keeps an archive of films at the Yunnan Provincial Library, including many of the films from their previous festivals. You can't take them out of the library, but there is a small private screening room on the premises. Alternatively, you can catch some of the older films during the regular Sunday screenings at Yuansheng Theater, which should resume after the festival.

Thanks Jeff, this is really useful. The program is like a jungle otherwise. There is no word to describe that MS Word schedule :-)

Update: Wu Haohao (listed above in "filmmakers to watch out for"), turned up with English subtitle versions of his films.

Jeff, how to know if there will be subtitles for the one not mentioned in your article? (can't find it on yunfest.org) I wanna see "Survival song" "Without You" "Wind Flowers Snow Moon" for example

The online schedule has been edited. If you download it again, you will see the subtitled films marked with an (E)

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