HKIDF2020 - Jurors Notes for Chinese Doc Competition

Gipsy Cheung, Jury of Chinese Doc Competition

 

The few finalists of this year’s Chinese Documentary Competition are quite even in terms of quality, with no particular film standing out from the rest.

There were only two finalist entries from Hong Kong: In Want of a Mask and Comrades. Both are observational pieces, with the director playing witness using the camera. Unfortunately, despite the powerful images and precise language, the central ideas have not been developed to their fullest potential.

The three finalist films hailing from Taiwan are the feature A Decision and the two short character portraits Ah Ying: The Extraordinary Ordinary and Đặng Tú Trinh. Taiwan has a long tradition of documentary filmmaking, and it clearly shows in the three films, all of which exhibit strong craftsmanship and focus on relatable humanistic stories. The two shorts are well produced, and chronicle the struggles and perseverance of individuals. The feature A Decision is an outstanding film -- in a world without colours, where patients are trapped in limbo between life-support and death, there is all but a fine line between holding on and giving up. It is evident in the cinematography, editing and narrative structure that the director deeply respects and empathizes with his subjects.

Of the five films from mainland China, the two shorts contain some very nice visuals, although some of them come across as overly deliberate and distract viewers from the main theme and characters. The aerial shots in The Old Barber, for example, almost turn the film into a travel program. Of the three feature films, Uncle Guo’s DreamWorks and Heaven Can Wait are the most outstanding -- both are tales of reality becoming more outrageous and dramatic than fiction.

The rise of streaming platforms has expanded the market for documentary films. This should be a good thing for documentaries, but the need to make them more entertaining may have led directors to give more dramatic treatment to their materials and had an influence on some independent productions. Some of the films shortlisted this year seem to contain -- without any warning -- materials created for the sake of drama. One cannot help but wonder: should the “truth” be the constant goal documentary filmmakers strive towards?

The world is in turmoil this year. I originally thought there would be more films that chronicle or respond to the chaotic era we live in -- an age that demands recording more than ever. Let us all prevail.

 

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Gipsy Cheung is the Head of Screen Production Practice, School of Film and Television in the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. Besides teaching, Gipsy also actively participates in local film circle as editing advisor for independent fiction and documentary films as well as being jury member for local and international film festivals.