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HONG KONG — China is seeing a boom in documentary making with the spread of digital cameras and the wealth of issues arising from the country’s rapid modernization, Oscar-winning filmmaker Ruby Yang said Wednesday.
The Chinese-American filmmaker, who won an Academy Award in 2007 for her documentary short The Blood of Yingzhou District, said screenings of Chinese documentaries were still rare when she moved to Beijing from the San Francisco area in 2004.
“Now I’ve seen many young independent documentary filmmakers, their work being shown overseas, in Europe, in New York,” Yang told students after a screening of her new film The Warriors of Qiugang at the University of Hong Kong. She added that even large commercial studios are getting into the act, with Shanghai Media Group giving grants to young documentary makers.
“It’s very alive. I think it’s a great time to do documentaries in China because China is changing so quickly. There are so many subjects that one can do,” Yang said. “The quality of the films has improved a lot and there’s quite a bit of (financial) support from even inside of China and outside of China for these filmmakers.”
Yang’s recent work has examined a range of social issues. The Blood of Yingzhou District focused on discrimination against rural Chinese children who lost their parents to AIDS. Tongzhi in Love, released in 2008, portrayed the plight of Chinese homosexuals dealing with conservative parents. The Warriors of Qiugang, which was nominated for the best documentary short Oscar this year but didn’t win, follows a rural Chinese village’s successful campaign to evict a polluting chemicals factory.
Yang’s latest film was screened for the villagers it depicts and for environmental activists, but like many Chinese documentaries, didn’t receive a commercial release. However, she said it has been illegally uploaded to several video-sharing websites.
Despite the limited mass exposure of the film, the Oscar nomination still drew government attention, with Chinese officials sending cleaners to spruce up Qiugang Village and clear out the old factory site, as well as pledging 200 million Chinese yuan ($30 million) to cleaning up a nearby waterway, Yang said.
“They are very conscious of their image in the West,” she said.
Yang, who edited the feature films Xiu Xiu, The Sent Down Girl and Autumn in New York, both directed by actress Joan Chen, said she next plans to make short films about Chinese activists and also hopes to direct a feature film.
She was also asked about her use of computer animation and comic-style graphics in The Warriors of Qiugang to depict events that she could not shoot — such as the lush fields of Qiugang before it was polluted and protests staged by the villagers.
“I think nowadays people are getting very sophisticated, audiences are getting sophisticated and there are many ways to represent a story — as long as you are true to the facts,” Yang said.
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