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New Left Review 74, March-April 2012

ying qian


China’s Independent Documentary Movement

Since its emergence in the late 1980s, independent documentary cinema has become one of the most vibrant spheres of artistic expression in the prc, and a central forum for registering social change and critically depicting current realities. With its aesthetics of spontaneity, immediacy and on-the-spot realism, it marks a distinct departure from documentaries of the past in formal as well as epistemological terms: instead of letting ideology lead the camera, contemporary filmmakers prefer to face the world with minimal a priori knowledge, allowing the lens to wander and observe what unfolds. In what follows, I will chart the development of this movement over the past two decades through several key films, examining their relation to the prc’s Socialist past, and their efforts to reinvent realism, investigate state power and organize politically.

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