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A Record of the New Documentary Movement in China

Starting in the late 1980s, the New Documentary Movement in China established a new way of looking at the world from the grass-roots up; a way of clearly understanding what drives different classes to survive and what feelings they have. They see history as "wide open" and "clear", promising that everyone has the possibility to be recorded in history. They create history. -- From the introduction of Lu Xinyu's book, Documentary China -- the New Documentary Movement in Contemporary China.

From the late 1980s, Chinese documentaries began to evolve from official, grand narratives to more personal films about ordinary people. The new films were made by young filmmakers at television stations around the country. The focus of their works turned to the 'present moment' of Chinese society. This change of orientation was soon reflected on CCTV, China's national broadcaster. The documentary 'Oriental Horizon' was launched in 1993, and "telling common people's own stories" became the raison d'etre of the program.

Lu Xinyu got her doctorate in aesthetics at Shanghai's Fudan University in 1993, and then she started to research a new generation of Chinese documentary makers. Her new book, Documentary China—the New Documentary Movement in Contemporary China is the summation of her ten years' "field work" in this area and a record of the development of Chinese documentary from the late 1980s to the present.

In this book, she interviews several well known documentary directors she considers to be representative of the "new documentary movement", like Wu Wenguang, Jiang Yue, and Chen Meng.

"I intended to draw a theoretical outline of the development of documentary in China. I give it the name 'New Documentary Movement'." Her interviews with the directors all focus on the following questions: Where does your understanding of documentaries come from? What made you start making documentaries in the late late 1980s and early 1990s? What are your ideals as far as documentaries go?

She concentrated on the details of the whole process in making a particular documentary work, and gets her interviewees to describe this process in the book. "I use the interview form because it is more convenient for me to seize the thread of thought in the documentary development. I also try to prove that there is a trend that I have called the New Documentary Movement, which was not widely accepted in China then, and make it more directly perceived."

This movement, according to Lu Xinyu, first lies in a "lower position" in documentary. It means that documentary directors pay more attention to ordinary people and to treat the people they are recording as equals. This change of position is very important as it marks a return of documentary films to their origins.

Now Lu Xinyu is a professor at Journalism School of Fudan University, and she is still focusing on Chinese documentaries. She emphasizes the "documentary spirit". As far as she is concerned, "documentary" is not a noun but a verb, which means the activities of recording, and "documentary spirit" is "the sincere, equal respect and attentive listening to the people; the brave, attentive exploration and questioning of the truth of life".

She says that in the book she also provides different perspectives and expects to offer new ideas to those who are interested in documentaries. And for those who have only little knowledge about documentaries, she says her book will "provide an overview of Chinese documentaries for them, if they think it is really important and if they are deeply concerned about Chinese society."

(CRI.com August 23, 2004)

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