Academic journal article China Perspectives

Performance, Documentary, and the Transmission of Memories of the Great Leap Famine in the Folk Memory Project

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Performance, Documentary, and the Transmission of Memories of the Great Leap Famine in the Folk Memory Project

Article excerpt

Independent documentary film projects dealing with history have recently multiplied in China. While aii seek to shed new light on personal experiences of the Mao era, they vary greatly in form, method, and scale, ranging from individual films relying on investigation and interviews ( 1966, MyTime as a Red Guard,Wu Wenguang, 1992, 165 min.; Though I am Gone, Hu Jie, 2006, 70 min.), to minimalist filmic memoirs (He Fengming Wang Bing, 2007, 186 min.), and scholarly participative documentary videos such as the Hundred People, Hundred Years micro documentaries of the magazine Our Historyß

Launched in 2010 in Caochangdi Workstation (Caochangdi Gongzuozhan), a space dedicated to contemporary dance and documentary film, the Folk Memory Project (Minjian Jiyi Jihua, thereafter FMP) was initiated by independent documentary filmmaker Wu Wenguang and his partner, choreographer and Living Dance Studio director Wen Hui. It is a collective performing arts and documentary film project focusing on memories of the Great Leap famine (1959-61) ® in the countryside. The lack of appropriate recognition of the Great Leap famine in Chinese official history, as well as the urgency of recording the survivors' memories, prompted this independent project and weighed on its general outline. As the disaster was nationwide, the FMP was conceived as a large-scale participative project open to all. While individuals from various backgrounds participate more or less regularly in the FMP activities, its core team is composed of seven young artists in residence (Zhang Mengqi, Luo Bing, Shu Qiao, Zou Xueping, Li Xinmin, Wang Hai'an, and Guo Rui).® To record the villagers' historical memories, they regularly go back to their "home villages," ® initially spending a couple of weeks to around three months in winter 2013-2014. After each round of fieldwork, they edit their footage into feature-length documentaries® and work on collective and individual performance pieces inspired by this experience.!6) Besides these two main forms of creative output, they also contribute to a dedicated blog!7) and other social media platforms, posting transcriptions of full-length Interviews with villagers, still pictures, and documentary writing In the form of diaries and production notes. Other Caochangdi Workstation residents, namely Wen Hui, Wu Wenguang, and Villager Self-Governance Film Project participant Jia Zhitan, (8) have also carried out similar work.!9) All of them occasionally conduct workshops with university or secondary students throughout China, often Inspiring members of their audience to carry out oral history Interviews In their own villages.(10) <10)

Because of Its multifaceted aspects, the great amount of archival material and artistic works produced, and Its wide-ranging scale, the FMP presents Itself as a total project combining various disciplines spanning both the arts and the social sciences. core participants' documentary films are equally hard to categorise cinematically, and their aesthetics - a distinctive mix of unsteady shots and descriptive sequences, short Interviews, and participative scenes - Is often perplexing for the audience, even though the authors' dedication and historical awareness always receive well-deserved praise. Consisting mainly of Interviews about the Great Leap Forward, these films fit In the subgenre of "historical documentary," but since they are collectively produced, they could also count as participatory videos!") aimed at raising awareness on past and contemporary problems faced by rural populations. Of equal Importance are their first-person accounts of the experience of young "urbanised" people returning to the countryside, which brings them closer to film diaries or family films.

Distinctively, this subjective mode Incorporates various performative elements that set them apart from other Chinese Independent historical documentaries. The filmmakers' use of various devices pertaining to the realm of performativity and performance arts In a large sense Is consistent with Wu Wenguang and Wen Hui's multidisciplinary approach. …

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