Documenting the changes on film

Updated: 2011-12-12 13:52

By Han Bingbin (China Daily)

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Documenting the changes on film

A scene from Canadian director Larry Weinstein's Inside Hana's Suitcase. Provided to China Daily

The iDOCS International Documentary Forum provides a rare chance for audiences in China to explore this genre through the best productions, and a chance to talk to the master producers and directors behind the cameras.

Since 2009, the forum has screened more than 20 films every winter from countries such as The Netherlands and Finland, both with established reputations in documentary-making.

This year, from Dec 12 to 16, another 20 international award-winning films will greet audiences, including three new productions from this year and 11 from 2010.

Zheng Qiong, the initiator of iDOCS and also the festival director, sticks to one simple principle in her choices - that all films should reflect the themes of "love and wisdom", in addition to being aesthetically worthy.

She promises that there will be no preaching or vague narrations void of solid content. Each story will be a focus on individual life with rich and riveting details.

For example, in the closing film Position Among the Stars, audiences will see how three generations of an Indonesian family are torn between traditional rural values and urban pressure against a backdrop of rising Islamic fundamentalism and increasing globalization.

In Canadian director Larry Weinstein's Inside Hana's Suitcase, a personal favorite of Zheng's, the audience will follow the search by Fumiko Ishioka at the Tokyo Holocaust Museum to discover the war-shattered life of Hana Brady, whose name was roughly painted on a battered suitcase that was delivered to Ishioka.

Zheng is not sure how Chinese audiences will receive these films, but says these are the ones that made her "weep, think and refresh" when she first watched them.

It was ultimately the admirable quality of these films that encouraged this idealistic woman to give up her documentary distribution business to introduce them to her countrymen, whom she thinks have been watching "too much commercial rubbish on big screens".

But Zheng says this may be the last year she will organize the event because funds are running dry, and the indifference towards documentaries has exhausted her enthusiasm.

Some local filmmakers disagree. Melanie Ansley, an independent filmmaker based in Beijing, hopes Zheng's feelings are like those of a new mother after birth: swearing she'll never go through it again, but forgetting the pain a year later and deciding to give it another go.

But Ansley agrees it is ultimately up to the audience to decide whether iDOCS stays or goes.

"It will either be your last chance to see these great films and meet these filmmakers who are legends in the industry," she says, "or your participation will bring the forum back bigger and stronger next year."

For ticket information and more details about the forum, please visit or call 010-8855-0623/4.