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“DADA’S DANCE” director, Zhang Yuan

[PREMIERE SCREENING: Friday, Jan. 16, 6:00 pm — Tower Theatre, Salt Lake City]

A year of significance for China is 1989 — a significant year for many Chinese of my age.

It is the year when the Tiananmen Square incident shook the world. In that same year, I concluded my four years of study at Beijing Film Academy and made my debut film Mama.

The making of Mama ended up not only holding significant meaning for me but for Chinese cinema in the broader context. Prior to 1989, Chinese film rigidly followed the ways of the Soviet big brother — all productions were controlled by a dozen state operated film studios. I was just out of school and with the 10,000 Yuan I raised myself, I began shooting Mama. The first scene was located in my room, the place I lived in at the time. Mama had been through all kinds of difficulties and was finally completed with a total budget of less than 200,000 Yuan. It was at first beyond my awareness that the completion of this ultrasmall budget film announced the end of an old production system — it was the birth of China’s independent cinema.

When rock ’n’ roll first appeared on the mainland in the early 1990s, people did not know what a music video was. In 1991, together with Cui Jian, the soul figure of China’s rock music, we made the very first music video in Chinese history, “Wild in the Snow.” Since then, my filmmaking career has drifted between making feature films,
documentary and music videos. The question I was most often asked by a foreign reporter was about the content censorship system in China. This is one question that a Chinese filmmaker must confront on top of all the other difficulties of filmmaking we share with all other filmmakers around the world. I am sorry to say that despite China’s tremendous economic advancement over the past 20 years, the film censorship seem to remain as orthodox as before. Of the past 10 films I have made, half did not reach China’s audience. It was during the time I made Seventeen Years in 1997 when I made an important decision — that I wanted my films to reach the audience of my native land. I have traveled and collected notes from 17 prisons, and in the end, the film was shown in public.

Techniques of film had been evolving, from the Lumieres to todays digital media, and modes of reception were also changing, from the cinemas to videotape to DVD, and now the Internet. China had been changing alongside everything else that changed, and the “pioneering” rock music video we once made is now mainstream. The taboo theme of homosexuality presented in East Palace, West Palace is now an openly discussed subject. Even independent film production is now the standard mode to produce films in China today. Things that were once forbidden became the norm.

It has been 20 years in between 1989’s Mama and 2009’s Dada, though it may be unintentional, but I am proud to see that the images I have recorded captured the shadows of our time — the 20 years of most dramatic changes by far in China’s history.

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