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Censor-y Overlords

Under ordinary circumstances, Chinese censors make it difficult for filmmakers to present any kind of meaningful depiction of contemporary life, which is one of the reasons that period stories and martial arts adventures are so prevalent. Like our MPAA ratings board, the State Administration of Radio,..

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7zf9uLKGNAUnder ordinary circumstances, Chinese censors make it difficult for filmmakers to present any kind of meaningful depiction of contemporary life, which is one of the reasons that period stories and martial arts adventures are so prevalent. Like our MPAA ratings board, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television is generally opaque & high-handed-earlier this year, however, the organization issued a list of specific guidelines that filmmakers are expected to abide by...a list so specific and strict as to shut down nearly all films set in the present, a situation that is expected to last until after the Olympics.Meanwhile, documentaries-made by Chinese and foreigners-remain among the best, and most satisfying means to get beneath the surface of Chinese life. Jung Chang's Up The Yangtze (currently playing in New York, and opening in theaters around the country throughout the summer), about a tour boat cruising the Three Gorges site, deftly counterposes the young members of its crew with the well-off Westerners they serve; clearly China's rapid modernization is no less bewildering to natives than to foreigners. Joana Vasquez-Arong's Neo-Lounge spotlights a high-end bar in Beijing, following the mostly Western expatriates who congregate there over a year in their lives. Manufactured Landscapes, about the photographer Edward Burtynsky, features breathtaking footage of Chinese factories and industry and their environmental impact, while West of the Tracks, a monumental 9-hour film, observes the death of "the iron rice bowl"-heavy industry in the Northeast that had long been the center of the country's economy.And beyond the reach of the government censors, an increasing number of Chinese filmmakers are making underground, un-approved films-both fiction and documentary. Karin Chien, a New York-based indie producer has just launched DGenerate, a distribution apparatus for such titles. This summer, they'll be releasing 15 films focusing on contemporary China, including a feature-length documentary on the nationwide American Idol-esque Super Girl Singing Contest television show and the lyrical San Yuan Li (clip above), a collaborative portrait of a village trapped within rapidly urbanizing Guangzhou, originally commissioned for the 2003 Venice Biennale.

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