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Chinese Independents, Part 2

MUBI Special

Following our spring program, we continue our spotlight on the groundbreaking documentaries that have recently come out of China. Often producing their work against the will of the state, these filmmakers have taken unimaginable risks in order to tell their stories. The series resumes with Huang Weikai’s extraordinary Disorder and concludes with Wang Bing’s monumental exposé of a Chinese psychiatric institute-cum-prison, Til Madness Do Us Part.

'Til Madness Do Us Part

Wang Bing Hong Kong, 2013

We end our series on Chinese independent cinema with a powerful and immersive film from the country’s award-winning, preeminent documentarian, Wang Bing. Here he gains access to an asylum whose use and practices beg questions that extend beyond mental health and probe the very nature of freedom.


Ning Li China, 2010

This radical documentary offers a different side of Chinese underground cinema: A lively self-portrait of director Ning Li’s rise as an avant-garde performance artist against much political adversity. Tape is an integral look at a complicated modern society’s relationship with art and artists.


Hui Jing Xu China, 2012

Mothers continues the welcome tendency of Chinese underground cinema’s political subversiveness from a new, uncanny perspective: the daily processes of a birth control center, and their increasingly exploitative methods of enforcing the state’s one child law. Defiant, brave, necessary.


Du Haibin China, 2009

The physical, spiritual, social catastrophes in the aftermath of an earthquake are captured with brave immediacy in this documentary. Director Du Haibin, armed with but a consumer camcorder, captures a community’s resilience and a government’s indifference as an microcosm of political failure.

Timber Gang

Yu Guangyi China, 2006

The virtuous documentation of labor in China continues with yet another act of bravery: director Yu Guangyi followed his subjects into a brutal winter to cinematically retain their now-extinct traditions in these eloquent 90 minutes. The rare documentary formed as though it were an adventure film.

Ghost Town

Zhao Dayong China, 2008

We return to the work of Zhao Dayong (Street Life) with this sprawling yet intimate portrait of a moribund small town in southwest China haunted by its own cultural history. An essential film in this movement for providing a sympathetic cinematic space to peasants otherwise forgotten by modernity.

Street Life

Zhao Dayong China, 2006

Giving voice to the hidden victims of poverty who co-exist alongside the wealthiest echelons of Shanghai society, the always incisive 8th generation filmmaker Zhao Dayong offers a brave and sensitive macrocosmic document of class in modern china with this necessary vision of street life.


Huang Weikai China, 2009

Sinuously weaving together the most exacting excerpts from thousands of hours of footage provided by filmmakers and bystanders, Disorder organizes the absurdity of daily life in China’s major cities, and ostensibly any metropolis, into a rigorous polemic on life in the 21st century. Unforgettable.


Zhao Liang China, 2015

We close the first part of our series of underground Chinese documentaries with one of the most stunning-looking films to come out of the country, regardless of budget. A big canvas tale of ghost cities and environmental devastation, it uses Dante’s “Divine Comedy” to structure an vision.


Xu Xin China, 2010

A zenith of new Chinese cinema, Xu Xin’s doc confronts the tragic fire that forever altered life in the village of Karamay. Banned in its home country to this day, the scope of this film’s length is carried by its will to listen to the victims’ families with a rare, enveloping patience. Essential.

When the Bough Breaks

Ji Dan China, 2012

Chinese Independents continues with this document of poverty in modern Beijing. Much like the previous films in the series, this is shot on a consumer video camera in the name of breaking all barriers of style in exchange for an intimate proximity with the resilience of its subjects.

Fortune Teller

Xu Tong China, 2010

Our series on documentaries produced independently in China continues with Xu Tong’s remarkable and engrossing portrait of an illegal practitioner of fortune telling. It’s a vocation that takes the film through an unseen side of Chinese society, forming a compassionate portrait of the marginalized.

Queer China, 'Comrade' China

Cui Zi'en China, 2008

We continue our series honoring the humanist documentaries to come from China’s recent independent cinema, often made without government approval, with Queer China, ‘Comrade’ China. This is valiant act of cinema in its excavation of the queer experience in the country’s past, present, and future.

Three Sisters

Wang Bing France, 2012

We’re launching a series on the groundbreaking documentaries, often produced against the will of the state and concerning uncharted struggles, that have recently come out of China. We start with Wang Bing’s patient, provocative, and deeply compassionate portrait of three provincial young sisters.

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