Wu Wenguang

Wu Wenguang: China Village Self-Governance Film Project

"This film provides a completely new perspective." The House of World Cultures (Berlin)

Los Angeles premiere | People’s Republic of China, 2006, 100 min., mini-DV
Jack H. Skirball Screening Series

When China’s central government allowed local elections to proceed in 2005, Wu Wenguang, one of the main exponents of the Beijing-based "New Documentary Movement," offered villagers in remote areas of the country DV cameras and technical training so that they could document this historic event. From housewives to peasants young and old, the newly empowered villagers tell stories that are intimate, earnest, revelatory -- and uncensored. Shifting between documentary and news exposé, these vivid accounts range from "A Futile Election" in Shaanxi to a housewife observing the everyday life of her community, from a property dispute over a quarry field to the impact of governmental decisions on the livelihood of Yunnan farmers.

In person: Wu Wenguang



Preceded by:
a 20 minute excerpt of Seen and Heard (2005)
a documentary about the project, directed by Jian Yi,
Coordinator for the China Village Self-Governance Film Project

Production Notes

This project is an activity organized by the EU-China Training Program on Village Governance. We focus on what we call "village self-governance," which refers to the democratic election of the village committee, the democratic management of village affairs, transparency of village affairs, democratic decision making and supervision of the village committee. Self-governance is now a state policy that is being implemented (regardless of its effectiveness) among all of China's 700,000 odd villages to a rural population of some 900,000,000.

A call for documentary film proposal was advertised in September 2005. Some ninety proposals were entered for both competitions: Villager DV-Makers and Young Filmmakers (under 30). From each category, the ten best proposals were retained. The exciting comments written in the proposals entered in by the villagers serve as testimonies of how valuable this unprecedented project is – out there in the countryside, the villagers, who previously had only been the objects of curious cameras, have always had a yearning for expressions of their own.

In the first week of November 2005, the ten successful villager candidates and the ten young directors/production teams were invited (all expenses paid) to Wu Wenguang’s Caochangdi Studio in Beijing, where they participated in a training workshop.

We spent a week on the workshops, working twelve hours a day. Aged between 24 and 59, the selected villagers, all having little or zero video skills, each received a DV camera as a gift. Apart from learning the know-how of video shooting and village self-governance, they were also put them together with the selected young filmmakers and a villager human rights activist for a day, in which the villagers' film proposals were presented, discussed and developed.

The group included two women and two members of ethnic minorities. Eight of them were farmers living in a village, while two were town residents. They came from nine different provinces, from the impoverished Shaanxi in the Northwest to the prosperous coastal area of Zhejiang. Only two of the ten villagers had touched a DV camera before: a 45-year old farmer who spent more time doing freelance writing for literary magazines and filming old wall slogans in his village than doing farm work; and a 26-year old man who had left his home village a few years ago to earn a living doing camera work for a wedding company in a nearby town.

After the workshop, the villagers returned to their village to embark on their individual project. They came back to Beijing mid-December to edit the footage under the supervision of the curator and organizers of the project.

Born on October 23, 1956 in Yunnan, Wu Wenguang is the most influential figure of the Chinese “New Documentary Movement” that sprung in Beijing in the early 1990s. He spontaneously recreated the aesthetics of cinema vérité through his intimate mode of filming and the extended duration of his pieces.

After high school, Wu spent the last years (1974–78) of the Cultural Revolution as a farmer. In 1978–82, he studied literature at Yunnan University, taught at a junior high school for three years, and joined Kunming Television and China Center TV in 1985 to work as a news journalist for four years. He left the TV station in 1989 to become an independent documentary filmmaker and freelance writer, later becoming a television journalist (1985–1989). His aesthetic breakthrough came with the epoch-making Bumming in Beijing – The Last Dreamers (1990) and its follow-up, At Home in the World (1995). Starting with the portrait of five young marginalized artists, Wu powerfully depicts the existential angst, creativity and cultural displacement that characterized his generation after June 1989.

In 1991, he founded Wu Documentary Studio and in 1994, he co-founded The Living Dance Studio with his partner, dancer/ choreographer Wen Hui, with whom he collaborates often – as a playwright, actor and video artist. He conceived the performance Dance with Farm Workers which she directed in 2001, and reworked it as a video in 2002.

As a writer, editor and educator, he is a tireless advocate of documentary and digital media. Between 1996 and 1997, he published a desk-top magazine, Documentary Scene, then founded/edited the independent monthly art magazine New Wave (2001). He wrote three books inspired by his videos, and edited two collections of critical texts, Document (2000 and 2001).

He is the 1997 recipient of an Asian Cultural Council grant that allowed him to study and travel throughout the US. His documentaries have been shown in festivals, media art centers and universities all over the world.

Selected Filmography:
Chinese People (1989)
Bumming in Beijing – The Last Dreamers (1990)
1966, My Life in the Red Guards (1993)
At Home in the World (1995)
On the Road (1999)
Dancing with Farm Workers (2001)
Fuck Cinema (2006)

The Jack H. Skirball Screening Series is curated by Steve Anker and Bérénice Reynaud.

Associated Images: 

MON 1/29
8:00 pm

G - General Audience

M - REDCAT Members

ST - Students

CA - CalArts Students/Faculty/Staff