Jul 2, 2019

Orphans in China -- - “影展与城市” 国际论坛

Orphan films in China? 

Many, of course! So at last the Orphan Film Symposium visits China.

Xiamen University invited me to talk about the symposium-as-festival (“Screening Orphan Films: Why and How?”) and to screen a sample of shorts at this week's two-part conference on festivals and archives. Most of the other works presented here also fit within the orphan rubric. We saw a variety of previously neglected, forgotten, obscure, seldom-seen, or undistributed titles: ethnographic films, a found-footage remix, video art appropriation, a propaganda drama about comradeship among Chinese and North Korean soldiers during the Korean War, home movies from Taiwan, indie Malaysian movies, and restorations of feature films from Singapore, Mexico, the Philippines, and Thailand. 

How did we get here? 

In 2018, professors Li Xiaohong and Ray Jiing first visited NYU Cinema Studies with a group of other faculty and students from Xiamen University in Fujian, China. Our NYU faculty colleague Zhang Zhen was the conduit for dialogue among our Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program, NYU Cinema Studies, and XMU's team, who are creating a media archiving degree similar to NYU MIAP.  The  university now operates an expanding film archive and study center, guided by Professor Jiing, best known for establishing what is now the Taiwan Film Institute.

Professors Li Xiaohong (Deputy Dean of Humanities) & Ray Jiing, 井迎瑞.
This week the interactions culminated in a large conference, "影展与城市" 国际论坛 -- the International Film Festival Forum -- hosted by Xiamen University's College of Humanities and co-organized with the NYU Asian Film and Media Initiative. Part 1 (June 28-29) brought 16 speakers together for daytime presentations and evening screenings. Zhang Zhen and Sangjoon Lee conceptualized the panels.

Our generous host Prof. Li and her impressive students from the Department of Film and Drama took this commemorative photograph on day one and delivered laminated copies to each of us the next day.

Part 2 (June 30 - July 3) addressed Film Archives and Film Restoration, with a new set of presenters, led by Dr. Jiing, assembling again on the beautiful campus. MIAP Director Juana Suárez and I were the fortunate two who got to present at both, with Dina Iordanova (St. Andrews U), Hee Wai Siam (Nanyang Technological U), and Nitin Govil (University of Southern California) participating in both as well.

Most attendees were Xiamen University faculty and students, working alongside invited artists, archivists, programmers, and researchers from across China and southeast Asia -- Yunnan, Guizhou, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines. Others came from North America, Europe, and Australia, including Jan-Christopher Horak (UCLA Film and Television Archive), Howard Besser (NYU), Bono Olgado (U of California, Irvine), Miao Song (Concordia U, Montreal), and Kirsten Stevens (U of Melbourne).

We learned about the histories and practices of film festivals including the Hong Kong IFF (from Roger Garcia), Singapore IFF (Yuni Hadi), Southeast Asian FF (Sangjoon Lee), Canada China IFF (Song Miao), Japanese festivals (Ma Ran), Latin American preservation festivals (Juana Suárez), and Taiwan's Women Make Waves (Huang Yu-Shan) and Golden Harvest Award and Short Film Festival (Ming-Yeh Rawnsley).

The fact that China's Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival has located to Xiamen this year* was a key reason the university organized the forum on this theme. We heard from Professor Li about the founder of the Golden Rooster Awards, and from Zheng Guoqing (Xiamen U) about Taipei's Golden Horse Awards and Festival. Other topics analyzed included the marketing of festivals (Liao Gene-Fon, Taiwan U of Arts), "cities of film" (Zhang Aigong, XMU), film collecting (Zhang Jin, China Film Archive) and Lin Liang-wen (Taiwan U of Arts), and Home Movie Day (Hsieh Yu-en, Film Collectors’ Museum).

Media art and ethnographic filmmaking were given particular attention, with screenings of the Chinese-language works Miasma, Plants, Export Paintings (Wang Bo & Pan Lu, 2017) Kawa People (Tan Leshui, 1958; introduced by the filmmaker’s son), and Tail After Those Old Photos (Chen Xueli, 2015). Yunnan was also well represented by Tan, Chen, media artist Li Xin, and film rescuer Xiong Libo. They were joined by Wei Wei (Guizhou Minzu U) on the Miao series of ethnographic films from the 1970s.


Each section of the conference ended with a visit to the XMU Film Archive Studies Center, located on the top floor of the library on the larger Xiang'an campus. Shiyang Jiang led our tour of the archive. A new film scanner sits alongside an acre of projectors and old film cans -- displayed to remind us of the noted cultural heritage site, the Terracotta Army of Xi'an. There's also a lecture room set up with working 35mm projectors on the floor, which were used to good effect.

Shiyang Jiang of the XMU film archive will be entering the NYU MIAP master's program.

Photos and videos by Dan Streible, June 27, 2019. 

Ray Jiing's Archivist's Code of Ethics on display in Chinese concludes with a paragraph about the English terms "orphan films" and "public domain."  Shiyang translated. 

A special treat concluded the visit: projection of a 35mm print from the Military Collection, nothing less than a reel from Wong Kar-wai's Ashes of Time Redux (1994/2008). 

The evening screenings on the giant screen of the 700-seat theater were especially memorable. These included 

Chris Horak introduced UCLA restorations of the handsome Enamorada (Emilio Fernandez, Mexico, 1946), shot by Gabriel Figueroa, starring Maria Félix & Pedro Almendáriz; and, from Hollywood, the odd 1929 Best Picture nominee Alibi (sound version)

• Man with a Movie Camera: The Participatory Global Remake (1929/2017), January 19, 2017 edition; introduced by Howard Besser as an example of database cinema and our forum theme of cities.

• Lino Brocka's Maynila, sa mga Kuko ng LiwanagManila in the Claws of Light (Philippines, 1975), a 2013 restoration by the World Cinema Foundation, introduced by Benedict Salazar Olgado, former director of the National Film Archives of the Philippines.

• The fabulous martial arts flick 血指环 / Ring of Fury (Singapore, 1973), restored by the Asian Film Archive, with Cineric Portual solving the serious mold and color fading problems; introduced by Karen Chan.

The before-and-after demo for Ring of Fury is more striking than most.

• Santi-Vina (Thavi Na Bangchang, Thailand, 1954) 
Introduced by Sanchai Chotirosseranee of Film Archive (Public Organization), Thailand; restoration from the BFI National Archive's 35mm nitrate release print. The first Thai color feature film -- and such colors! 

My orphan shorts (small films screened on the small screen) included [Elsa and Albert Einstein at Warner Bros.- First National Studio] (US, 1931); the amateur production Na odnoi zemle / On the Same Earth (USSR, 1976); and the particularly well-received 轻骑姑娘 / Light Cavalry Girls (China, 1980) from the University of South Carolina's Chinese Film Collection. This Central Newsreel and Documentary Film Studio production by Shen Jie highlights the Chinese army’s Bayi Women Light Motorcycle Team. The XMU students were particularly intrigued by this anomalous experimental documentary. (My thanks to the researchers who rediscovered these three films: Becca Bender and Maria Vinogradova, as well as Zoe Meng Jiang, Yongli Li, and Lydia Pappas.) I was also able to screen clips from my forthcoming annotated, on-line filmography of 50 terms for newsreel  elements, including the item that serves as the frontispiece for the 2020 Orphan Film Symposium -- If the Antarctic Ice Cap Should Melt? -- outtakes (Fox Movietone News, 1929). 

Special recognition here for artist-curator Qin Dao and his presentation on the Guangzhou City cinematheque "On Kino." Here's a quintessential icon of orphan films in China, as seen on the Facebook page

My gratitude to the Xiamen University team for the hospitality all week. They gave us access to the famous local cuisine, a tour of Gulang Island (UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site), and extraordinarily friendly attention to every detail. 

Don't be surprised if there is another forum next year. 

-- Dan Streible 

p.s. Special thanks to XMU student, 华莱士 Young, my translator, problem-solver, and fellow basketball fan.

Also, it must be noted that the XMU student team of Alice, Shiyang, and Young all gave up what should have been their first day off to make sure I got through the emergency room process. 

(Total out-of-pocket cost for emergency room visit, doctor's exam, lab tests, and medications:  about $50 USD for this non-citizen.)


* Rebecca Davis, “Xiamen Woos Film Industry, Becomes New Home of Golden Rooster Festival,” Variety, June 16, 2019.