I know that I AM

Today was emotionally really shitty, the kind of day I want to finish by getting wasted, all teen-punk angst. Lucky there’s the internet to remind me just how grateful I should be that I’m not a tranny in Iran.

Straight.com had a piece reviewing some of the highlights of the Vancouver Queer Film & Video Festival, many that seem older than a year, or maybe it’s just been a long year in Cantonese pirate DVD land, and several that are pretty tranny-centric usually coming from somewhere in Asia where filmmakers seem to have a better grasp on reality than the English-speaking world. The film that grabbed me though, is I know that I AM directed by Peyman Khosravi, a documentary on transsexual and gay prostitutes in Iran. The trailer is on YouTube.

I Know That I Am

Despite the fact that much of the footage—shot in secret and smuggled out of Iran—was captured and presumed destroyed by local authorities, I Know That I Am exists thanks to the tenacity of director Peyman Khosravi.

Out On Screen is extremely proud to present the world premiere of this unique, powerful documentary. I Know That I Am reveals the little-told story of trans queers in Iran. Vilified by society and without support networks outside their small communities, theirs is one of survival against the odds: according to law, sexual “deviancy” is punishable by hanging. Through interviews with government officials, human rights advocates and trans people themselves, the film constructs a telling, important portrait of queer struggles amidst profound cultural restrictions.

— Vancouver Queer Film & Video Festival

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p.k.14 – a tour of the public kingdom

It’s time to think about China and Guangzhou again as I’ll be in Hong Kong in two weeks and spending the next two months in Guangzhou making some particularly vile art. So, I was talking with Emile today about Chinese music because he really wants to check out the black metal scene there, and I thought about the podcast from chaile 拆了, with P.K.14, Re-TROS, 超级市场 (supermarket), and a couple of others. Then I saw today there’s a doco of P.K.14 on tour around China screening in Beijing, A Tour of the Public Kingdom.

“A Tour of the Public Kingdom ( Documentary )”
PK 14 Xun Hui
Director: David Harris

This chronicle of Chinese rock band PK14’s 2004 nationwide tour is a window into China today. Their music: a new voice in an ancient country.

‘In Oct./Nov. 2004 Chinese band PK 14 embarked on their first nation wide tour of China. A Tour of the Public Kingdom is a chronicle of that tour.

The music of PK 14’s carries us through the Chinese countryside, through band-member’s hometowns, crossing paths with friends and other bands also on tour, finally returning to Beijing.

From impromptu gig’s at internet cafe’s, to larger ritzier live venue’s, we see rock music finding it’s place in a modern china of many contrasts and voices. At times the two coming together with more than a little friction!

Shot and recorded over the month long DIY tour, we follow the band riding trains, busses, trucks, vans, cabs. Lifting and lugging come what may, all for the love of playing their music. Interspersed with spoken extracts from concerts and interview’s for local T.V. and radio stations met along the way, we learn about the four band-members, their reasons for playing and touring and the meaning behind the music. And through the eye’s of the drummer, a foreigner, are fed a little of the more quirky side of the life in China today.

This is the first film by David Harris and another 30 minutes feature film which is the second film of David Harris will follow to screen on the same night.

— chaile 拆了

behind the scenes

Deutsches Tanzarchiv Köln is calling for entries of dance film documentaries for the 2006 Behind the Scenes Festival.

The film camera explores the world of dance.

It provides insights into the development of a choreography or the daily rehearsals of a dance company, offers us a many-faceted picture, composed of interviews, rehearsal shots, documents and archive materials, of the life and works of a dancer or choreographer. The camera becomes the chronicler of dance.

The works presented in the programmes of the BEHIND THE SCENES festival, though, offer more than just a look ‘behind the scenes’, more than just documentation and information. They are also examples of ambitious cinematic reflections on the most transitory of arts – dance.

For the second time this worldwide one and only festival on dance in documentaries – initiated and organized by the Deutsches Tanzarchiv Köln (German Dance Archives) – will be held from October 18 – 20 2006 in Cologne.

Deadline for submissions:
May 31st, 2006

Deutsches Tanzarchiv Köln
SK Stiftung Kultur
z.H. Christiane Hartter / Thomas Thorausch
Im Mediapark 7
D-50670 Köln
Phone.: +49 221 226-5763 oder 226-5772
Fax: +49 221 226-5758
E-mail: tanzarchiv@sk-kultur.de

Information about the programmes of the festival in 2004:

— Deutsches Tanzarchiv Köln

crazy for digital

The current state of film in China and Hong Kong, mostly triad good-cop/bad-cop or period piece fantastical martial arts sewerage is about as interesting and predictable as Hollywood, or the great French art-house depression of the mid-90s. There is stuff coming out which is genuinely interesting, but even the great Hong Kong double-act of Wong Kar-wai and Christopher Doyle haven’t been so loaded with genius of late.

There is amazing stuff being made though, it’s just a matter of hearing about it, and then finding it. Even though this article came out over a month ago, and has been in my temporary pile of ‘things to write about’ for much of that time, it’s still worth a read if you’re interested in underground film in China.

“There is a new kind of freedom emerging [for Chinese film-makers]. They don’t trust institutions. They occupy a new space of creativity,” says Bar-bara Keifenheim, a film-maker and anthropologist who served as a judge at this year’s Yunnan Multi-Cultural Visual Forum, or YunFest, where Huang’s Floating made its first appearance among scores of other DV films. “It’s a bit reminiscent of the 1960s in Western countries,” she says.

Young filmmakers have found this new creative space outside the confines of China’s mainstream media and its apparatus of state control, says Lu Xinyu, a professor of journalism at Shanghai’s Fudan University and author of Docu-menting China: The Contemporary Documentary Movement in China.

“They don’t go through any of the official production channels recognized by the state. So in this way they escape scrutiny,” Lu says.

Censors in China must still approve screenplays for traditional movies before production goes forward. But DV films like Huang’s are not regarded as proper films by the authorities because they are low-budget affairs and don’t reach a mass audience. For the same reason, gatherings like YunFest do not bill themselves as “film festivals.”

— Weekend Standard

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China’s indie doco scene

I missed the 2nd 同性恋电影节 Beijing International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival a couple of months ago, but City Weekend had this great article on the indie doco scene in China, which is queer, political and making the kind of films I’d queue to see at my local film fest. One I’d really like to see is 杜海滨 Du Haibin’s film on transsexual showgirls in Chengdu人面桃花 Beautiful Men.

China’s New Documentary Movement, from its inception in the early Nineties through its heyday in 2003, had neither manifesto nor central directives. The “movement” revolved around questions of how to use documentary film to grasp at truths both big and social, small and personal, contradictory and contested. The “movement” began in the form of private gatherings among edgy film-makers, such as Wu Wenguang, a forerunner with his now-classic Bumming in Beijing (1990), whose most recent documentary, F*ck Cinema was screened with much aplomb, alongside the works of many up-and-coming filmmakers, at 798 Art Factory’s 2005 Dashanzi International Art Festival this past May.

Du Haibin’s Beautiful Men follows the lives of a close-knit group of drag queen performers in Chengdu. On stage, the drag queens act out their “inner desires,” working as exotic, cross-dressing dancers for a living and making the stage into a platform for embodying the gender some believe they were born to be. The filmmaker’s use of a simultaneous dual image frame, in which their everyday life “as men” goes on alongside “the enactment of their chosen [female] identities on stage,” highlights the dual nature of their lives. The film has an uplifting ethos, reminding us of the beauty of tolerance and glorious diversity of the human condition.

— City Weekend

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淹沒 before the flood

I missed this one completely. 淹沒Before the Flood was screened in Guangzhou on the weekend. It’s also at the Los Angeles Film Festival right now.

When the Three Gorges Dam is completed, it will be the largest hydroelectric dam in the world. It will also have caused the displacement of over a million Chinese by submerging their homes—and heritages—under water. This intimate documentary captures the plight of Fengjie, a 2,000-year-old walled village that finds itself with only a few years to relocate to higher ground.

For many, Fengjie is an important historical site, the birthplace of poets and the final resting ground for emperors. For the local officials, it’s a logistical problem, which they tackle with a deft combination of civic boosterism and total denial. (One official becomes a master of the art of ditching phone calls.) For the people who live there however, Fengjie is home and, simply put, they don’t want to leave.

Directors Li Yifan and Yan Yu operate in a quiet, loose veritéstyle, juxtaposing the daily lives of laborers and innkeepers with the inner workings of the relocation committee without comment. People occasionally address the camera, but it’s not at an interviewer’s prompting. Rather it’s because no one else will listen to them. For despite their pleas and complaints and outright refusal to cooperate, ultimately they have little choice but to watch as their lives are dismantled, brick by brick, to make way for the modern world.

—LA Film Festival

middle sex

Amidst a long list of stuff I’ve missed in the last couple of weeks was this doco on Channel 4 in the UK by filmmaker Antony Thomas. Dunno if it’s gonna get screened on CCTV any time soon, though.

In the words of neurobiologist James Pfaus, ‘There are as many sexual orientations as there are faces. To suggest that the simple categories –male/female, heterosexual/homosexual –are adequate to describe the whole range of human sexuality is to ignore science and the evidence of nature.’

‘One thing we have to remember is that variation is the norm,’ says sexologist Professor Milton Diamond. ‘Biology loves difference. Society hates it.’

— Channel 4

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Joseph Rock rises again

Reading the Green Guide at Orange yesterday, the last name I expected to see getting airtime on SBS this week was Joseph Rock. I wrote about him at the start of the year when I stumbled across one of the most strange and poignant endeavours I’ve read that got committed to a blog.

Sydney multi-blogger and photographer In the footsteps of Joseph Rock has been slowly building up a photo-documentary of his own journey through Sichuan province which began as an attempt to follow Joseph Rock’s travels through the mountainous Tibetan borderlands in 1929. From the first retracings of Rock’s steps came other journeys in the 1990s and accompanying photographs. It’s the photographs that make this blog uniquely strange and bring Rock’s expeditions and his obsessions to life.

Over the past months In the footsteps of Joseph Rock has amassed a huge collection of his own photographs from his travels, some that as close as possible are the contemporary equivalents of Joseph Rock’s. In some cases the modern photos have been taken from exactly the same vantage point and besides the difference in quality and colour are identical. Other times, the photos serve to show the change, decay or destruction. Even more poignant are portraits where time seems to have stopped, the monks, villagers, farmers almost unchanged in eighty years.

Read In the footsteps of Joseph Rock and watch The Adventurous Travels of Joseph Rock, Saturday on SBS.


A fascinating portrait of Austrian explorer Joseph Rock and his adventures in the south-west of China from 1922 to 1949, with extraordinary footage. Joseph Francis Rock (1884-1962) arrived in China in 1922 and spent the best part of 30 years collecting plants, hunting birds, taking photographs, shooting films and exploring the mountainous regions of the south-west of China for various prestigious American institutions including the Department of Agriculture, the National Geographic society and Harvard University. When Rock first arrived in China, he made his headquarters in a small Naxi village near Lijiang in south-west China. There Rock discovered the Naxi priests, the Dongbas, and their religious pictographic script. Rock was fascinated and over the years he compiled a dictionary of the pictographic script. When the Second World War broke out, Rock refused to leave China, spending most of the war in Lijiang writing. Eventually Rock left Lijiang in 1944. On 5 December 1962, a month before the dictionary was published, Rock died of a heart attack in Honolulu surrounded by his beloved Naxi pictograms. (In English, Mandarin, Naxi and German, English subtitles)



6 years of documentaries

Last month Taipei had the hype of 台北金馬影展 Golden Horse Film Festival and the much less hyped 台灣國際紀錄片雙年展 Taiwan International Documentary Festival. For all the worthy films in Golden Horse, it still celebrates the same high-priced and monotonous global obsession that Hollywood is entranced with and really has very little to say about what is going on in film-making in Asia. The Documentary Festival however presented a much more encouraging view of Asian film-making.

At the Golden Horse Film Awards earlier this month, the number of Taiwanese-made feature films submitted to the competition–reputed as the Oscar of Chinese-language motion pictures–was just 29, of which 14 were short films less than 60 minutes in length. That means that commercially oriented movies produced in Taiwan in recent years have only amounted to about 15 films per year.

In contrast, the number of Taiwanese documentaries submitted to the biennual Taiwan International Documentary Festival (TIDF) this year was 142, 20 more than in 2002. The festival’s first year, 1998, saw fewer than 100 entries. The 2004 festival ran Dec. 11-17.

“Life,” a two-hour-long Taiwanese documentary about the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in central Taiwan in 1999, made more money at the local box office than any other Chinese-language motion picture this year, despite mixed reviews.

Whether it is a good or bad sign for Taiwan’s moribund film industry, this shows at least that feisty local filmmakers are striving to do whatever they can with whatever resources they have.

As the only international competitive film festival in Taiwan, TIDF has grown considerably over the last six years. There were 287 movies from 40 countries submitted to the third TIDF. The number this year has jumped to more than 640 works from 100 countries.

the white diamond

Werner Herzog’s new film opened the 台灣國際紀錄片雙年展 Taiwan International Documentary Festival on Saturday. Last night under clouds that threatened rain for all 1 1/2 hours of the film, it was rescreened on the grass out front of Huashan.

Werner journeys to the Kaierteur Falls in Guyana with Dr. Graham Dorrington, an obsessive engineer who is still struggling with the death of filmmaker Dieter Plage in his earlier prototype airship in the Sumatran rainforest 12 years earlier. The White Diamond follows their expedition but is as much a psychological examination of the fragile and damaged individuals as it is of an improbable and miraculous white airship floating like some magical apparition in the haze of the jungle canopy.

On site in Guyana, Herzog stumbles upon a parallel story of loss and longing in the character of local Rastafarian Mark Anthony, a diamond miner who is a hired hand in the professor’s project. Anthony quietly and placidly reveals to Herzog the story of the loss of his family — eight brothers, two sisters and his mother — who have all emigrated to Spain and who he wishes to see more than anything else.

As Anthony watches the professor undertake test flights of the craft, he muses how he would like to fly the craft over the Atlantic Ocean and land on his family’s roof in Malaga, Spain, and say to them, “Hello, I am home.” Ultimately, there are two heroes in the film, Dorrington and Anthony. Dorrington overcomes his ghosts and past failures by fine-tuning his craft and successfully flying it around the jungle canopy with Herzog, who comes along for the ride to film.

Anthony, meanwhile, presents a figure of strength and perseverance, as well as deep wisdom. At one point, when Herzog poses an unusually banal question to him, Anthony flatly replies, “I cannot hear you for the thunder that you are,” effectively brushing off the director. He is clearly deeply appreciated by the crew for his composure and his optimism in the face of hardship. Finally, he’s offered a ride, after which he comments that his only regret was that his pet rooster wasn’t able to join him.