×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

My Camera Doesn’t Lie

Just as China's renowned "Sixth Generation" of filmmakers have adopted an intimate and more raw approach than their predecessors, so have documakers Solveig Klassen and Kathrina Scheneider-Roos approached these young cinema firebrands with the personal touch in "My Camera Doesn't Lie."

With:
With: Jia Zhangke, Cui Zi'en, Liu Hao, Wang Chao, Li Yu, Cui Zi'en, Cheng Quingsong, Wu Wenguang, Zhang Yuan, Wang Xiaoshuai, Emily Tang, Dai Jinhua, Wang Quan'an, Ju Anqi, Liu Bingjian. (Mandarin dialogue)

Just as China’s renowned “Sixth Generation” of filmmakers have adopted an intimate and more raw approach than their predecessors, so have documakers Solveig Klassen and Kathrina Scheneider-Roos approached these young cinema firebrands with the personal touch in “My Camera Doesn’t Lie.” Klassen (from Germany) and Schneider-Roos (from Austria) avoid the slightest tint of being tourists in a strange land, getting a large community of filmmakers, critics and scholars to openly talk about work still generally frowned upon by China’s officialdom. Ideally positioned as a fest companion item alongside Sixth Generation titles, docu can also stand alone as a marketable vid specialty item.

“My Camera” allows Western viewers the first in-depth glimpse at such major voices as Jia Zhangke (“Xiao Wu,” “Platform,” “Unknown Pleasures”), Wang Chao (“Orphan of Anyang”), Wang Xiaoshuai (“Beijing Bicycle”), Zhang Yuan (“East Palace, West Palace”), Wang Quan’an (“Lunar Eclipse’) and Li Yu (“Fish and Elephant”).

These upstarts, most between ages 30 and 35, live in the kind of cramped and spare conditions that their relatively spoiled Yank indie counterparts would find intolerable. Liu Hao jokes about how sunlight doesn’t make its way into his quarters until noon, and says he lives close to the poor in order to feed his ideas.

It may startle his fans that a world-famous director like Jia, credited with opening up the new wave of independent mainland production with “Xiao Wu,” is seen accidentally locked out of his tiny apartment, waiting for his roommate to return so he can get inside. Moreover, Jia rightly takes no special credit for himself — others such as Zhang and Wang Xiaoshuai were equally crucial in the early years — and admits that he grew up never considering a filmmaking career.

Still, “My Camera” has a curious tendency to show clips only from the filmmakers’ first work (“Xiao Wu,” for instance, is incorporated, but nothing from Jia’s extraordinary subsequent films). And as wide-ranging as docu’s coverage is, it fails to include such gifted and important underground cineastes as Hu Ze, whose “Beijing Suburb” is probably the most radical and startling of all Sixth Generation pics.

Critic Cheng Quingsong, who proves quite observant, notes that while the Fifth Generation resorted to legends and history for much of its filmmaking material, the new group “talks about their lives.” Indeed, watching the artists in “My Camera” one sees no line of separation between their personal existences and what they film.

Helmer Emily Tang and Zhang — one of the first openly gay Chinese filmmakers — note that the Tiananmen Square tragedy proved a crucible for their peers (many of whom were Beijing Film Acad grads in the late ’80s and early ’90s), both pushing them away from overt politics but toward deeply personal forms of expression that ended up being subversive in an entirely new context for mainland Chinese culture.

Film scholar Dai Jinhua speaks most directly about censorship problems, noting that the censor boards’ directives are unpredictable and reflect “the personalities of a few bureaucrats.” Cheng chides Zhang for “becoming corrupted” because he has willingly submitted his films to the censors, something many in the Sixth Generation have refused to do.

Still, Klassen and Schneider-Roos are able to capture the freer side of Chinese film culture, such as their coverage of the first gay fest, held at Beijing U. The desire among Chinese youth for limitless expression and the hunger for making new kinds of cinema is palpable in this deeply encouraging film.

Digital vid quality is standard, but helps pic’s intimate mood. Sound, though, is in need of remixing.

My Camera Doesn't Lie

China-Germany-Austria

Production: A Morefilms production. Produced, directed, written by Solveig Klassen, Katharina Schneider-Roos.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), Lutz Reitemeier, Klassen; editor, Klassen; sound, Klassen, Schneider-Roos; production advisers, Oliver Roos, Li Zhenhua. Reviewed at IFP Los Angeles Film Festival (Spotlight on China), June 12, 2003. Running time: 92 MIN.

With: With: Jia Zhangke, Cui Zi'en, Liu Hao, Wang Chao, Li Yu, Cui Zi'en, Cheng Quingsong, Wu Wenguang, Zhang Yuan, Wang Xiaoshuai, Emily Tang, Dai Jinhua, Wang Quan'an, Ju Anqi, Liu Bingjian. (Mandarin dialogue)

More Film

  • Berlin Film 'The Ground Beneath My

    Berlin Competition Film 'The Ground Beneath My Feet' Sold to Germany's Salzgeber (EXCLUSIVE)

    Salzgeber has acquired the German rights for Berlin Film Festival competition title “The Ground Beneath My Feet” from sales agent Picture Tree International. Variety has been given exclusive access to the film’s trailer. Salzgeber will release the film, directed by Marie Kreutzer, mid-May. Picture Tree describes the movie as a “contemporary female-led drama touching on [...]

  • Donald Glover'Atlanta' TV show premiere, Arrivals,

    Childish Gambino Surprises Beverly Hills Crowd With Reimagined 'Redbone'

    Donald Glover made an unexpected appearance at Film Independent’s “An Evening With…” series tonight (Jan. 15), held at the Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts in Beverly Hills and presented by the HFPA. Joining “Black Panther” composer and Childish Gambino collaborator Ludwig Göransson, who was the subject of a Q&A conducted by “The Treatment” host Elvis [...]

  • 76th ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS --

    Film News Roundup: Glenn Close Selected for Oscar Wilde Award

    In today’s film news roundup, Glenn Close gets an honor, AFI names its Directing Workshop for Women participants and Teri Polo gets cast in a Christmas drama. CLOSE HONOR Glenn Close will be honored on Feb. 21 by the US-Ireland Alliance at the 14th Annual Oscar Wilde Awards, held at J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot in [...]

  • Jason Reitman Ghostbusters

    Jason Reitman to Direct Secret 'Ghostbusters' Movie

    Sony Pictures is getting the wheels in motion for the next installment in the “Ghostbusters” franchise, and it knows who it’s going to call to direct: Jason Reitman. Sources tell Variety that Reitman, whose father, Ivan, directed the first two “Ghostbusters” movies, will direct the latest pic in the famous franchise. Reitman has also co-written a [...]

  • L.A. Teachers' Strike: Hollywood Studios, Unions

    Hollywood Studios, Unions Support Parents and Educators as L.A. Teachers' Strike Rages

    Hollywood unions and entertainment companies have stepped up to support the 31,000 Los Angeles teachers in the second day of a massive strike that’s affected nearly half a million students. More than 50 SAG-AFTRA members picketed at a Tuesday afternoon rally in the driving rain next to the Hollywood & Highland Center with secretary-treasurer Jane [...]

  • SAMUEL L. JACKSON in Glass. M.

    ‘Glass’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV advertising attention analytics company iSpot.tv, Universal Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Glass.” Ads placed for the superhero thriller had an estimated media value of $9.89 million through Sunday for 1,183 national [...]

  • Danny Glover

    Danny Glover Joins 'Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle' Sequel

    Danny Glover has joined the cast of Sony’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” sequel. His role is being kept under wraps, as is the storyline. Glover will star opposite Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Karen Gillan, all of whom are set to return. Awkwafina is in final negotiations for a significant part in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content