The many voices of Chinese documentary
Early in the book I gave a definition of polyphony as the simultaneous interaction of many, and especially, of competing voices. In this last chapter I look at documentary film and television programmes of the recent past, as a collective, heterogeneous polyphony of voices. An important new player on the scene that we need to consider here are documentaries produced in the DV format. Since 2000, DV documentaries have made up an increasingly powerful portion of the overall production in the documentary mode. DV production includes a variety of amateur filmmakers from tertiary students and artists, to the unemployed, hairdressers, entrepreneurs, in short anyone seriously interested in shooting films in the new technology. Currently most television stations have a programme dedicated to DV films. From the late 1990s, there have been specialised DV programmes screened by Phoenix, the CCTV, the CETV and provincial stations. A further outlet for DV films is the internet, now also used by mobile phone filmmakers. In addition, there are various weekend exhibitions, many of them organised by non-government organisations associated with companies selling cameras. Some such gatherings are organised by university students, and some are sponsored by print media groups, by newspapers and popular magazines. Here are a few examples. In September 2001, Beijing Shijian She and Southern Weekend organised the first non-government DV exhibition at the Beijing Film Academy; in August 2003, the biggest independent DV exhibition so far took place in Zhujiang, billed as ‘Independence Day: Screen Exhibition’; and in 2004 the ‘Contemporary Chinese Independent Screen Exhibition’ was held in Chongqing. In 2005, the ‘Multicultural Visual Festival’ in Yunnan welcomed many independent DV documentaries to its second gathering. I was able to view a number of these films, to be discussed below, at the festival archives. DV production, I suggest, is a film practice that is not only of statistical significance, but one that is already beginning to cause a shift in the very conception of documentary cinema itself. Nor should we assume that this trend is the result only of a critical groundswell of creative expression amongst the growing number of DV filmmakers. Once more I emphasise
that the major television stations, such as the CCTV and CETV, have played a role in the emergence of mass DV documentary production.