Fête Pulse: TIFF's Seeing the Unseen: Re-Encountering Chinese Cinema (October 10-18)

Written by Jennifer J. Lau with notes from TIFF.net

Still from A Touch of Sin. Courtesy of TIFF.

Still from A Touch of Sin. Courtesy of TIFF.

Starting today for one week, TIFF is launching their “Seeing the Unseen: Re-Encountering Chinese Cinema” program. Films selected include works by Stanley Kwan, Jia Jiangke, Jiang Wen, Lou Ye, and many more.

Fête Chinoise is happy to share some thoughts on this fascinating interaction with Chinese-language films in Canada.

In Betty Xie’s review article of the collection of films to be screened this week, she mentions that at the heart of this collection are “ontological questions about the definition and conceptualization of ‘national cinema’.” She says this because these films (with content surrounding issues in China and filmed by Chinese directors in the 90s and early 2000s) were not actually readily available to the masses within the national borders of mainland China. However, for many viewers outside of China at the time, these films had represented “China” as a whole. It was their window, so to speak, into the contemporary life of the Middle Kingdom.

This issue of access raises ontological questions about the definition and conceptualization of “national cinema.” Who exactly is Chinese cinema (as we have come to think of it) made for? Where does the boundary lie between a critical cinema and a popular cinema?
— Betty Xie

Questions revolving around what belongs in “Chinese cinema” — and who gets to decide what belongs — is what Xie refers to when she gestures towards the philosophical implications of these films and what it means to screen them here in Toronto decades later. For whom were these films produced? What meaning does it carry for us in 2019? Are they considered Chinese “national cinema” simply because of the directors’ nationalities? These are all meaningful questions to ask because culture, like a human being, is multifaceted. In a similar vein, Yonfan, director of animated film, Cherry Lane No. 9, commented last month at a press conference, that he does not see his film belonging to one geographic region but representative of his identity as a global citizen.

Xie points out that those who were born in the 1980s and 1990s were facing new social issues at the time with migrant labour, youth delinquency, and women’s and LGBTQ rights. In today’s world the connectivity provided via the Internet, many resources are available for consumption and there are many channels for self expression. This week may truly the first time many Chinese abroad will view the films, which had been understood as realities of contemporary China during the 90s and early turn of the century. And this new audience this week brings a fresh eye on the films. Fête Chinoise would be interested in seeing how this TIFF program will highlight each of the films and bring them into our contemporary world without essentializing the contents as solely transparent representations of “China.” Whether you have seen them before or these films are brand new to you, we look forward to hearing about your reactions and thoughts.

If you plan to see any of the films, drop us a note! We’d love to hear from you.

Li Yu. Still from Lost in Beijing. Courtesy of TIFF.

TIFF: Seeing the Unseen: Re-Encountering Chinese Cinema

Venue: TIFF Bell Lightbox

Dates: Now until October 18

Talks & Films and Dates:
Thursday October 10 at 6:15 pm Betty Xie on Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl

Friday October 11 at 6:15 pm Shana Ye on Lan Yu

Saturday October 12 at 4:30 pm The Horse Thief

Sunday October 13 at 5:00 pm Devils on the Doorstep

Tuesday October 15 at 6:15 pm Summer Palace

Wednesday October 16 at 6:30 pm Beijing Bicycle

Thursday October 17 at 6:30 pm A Touch of Sin

Friday October 18 at 6:30 pm Lost in Beijing