Extending the local : documentary film festivals in East Asia as sites of connection and communication

  • Tit Leung CHEUNG

Student thesis: PhD Thesis (Lingnan)


East Asian cinema is receiving increasing global attention. This attention is not focused merely on the fiction and feature films produced in the region, but also on the documentaries produced there; films such as Petition (2009) by Chinese director Zhao Liang which premiered at Cannes Film Festival in 2009. This attention to East Asian documentary can be traced to the documentary film festivals organised in the region, particularly those that devote their programming to independent documentary productions from the region. These festivals open a window that enables such works to be exhibited for the rest of the world.

But these festivals do not aim merely to exhibit and screen these works. They also pay attention to the filmmakers. The attendance of filmmakers at festivals has previously been assessed to be of low importance. By encouraging filmmakers to visit and participate the festivals examined here can be seen to represent shared concerns regarding the cultivation of documentary filmmaking in the Asian region. The four film festivals that serve to exemplify this are the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival (YIDFF) in Yamagata, Japan; the Documentary Film Festival China (DOChina) in Beijing, China; the Taiwan International Documentary Festival (TIDF) in Taichung, Taiwan; and the Hong Kong’s Chinese Documentary Festival (CDF).

Each festival forms the basis of a case study in the hope that the context of documentary film festivals in the East Asia can be delineated. Particular aspects of the festivals are discussed in relation to a significant underlying dimension that is identified in each of the festivals in question: the emphasis on communication in YIDFF that enhances the sense of connectedness in the participating festival community; the independent and underground status of DOChina that is embedded in the festival as a form of resistance to the state government; the relocation of TIDF to a government-supported museum contextualises the festival and draws on the general functions and purposes of a museum: exhibition, education and collection. The fourth case study examines the multi-faceted nature of CDF through the previously examined concepts to demonstrate the generalisability of the concepts to, and the inherent complexity of film festivals.

A common theme underlies all of these concepts: a sense of the local, of ‘local-ness’. The ‘local’ here is a relative term that depends largely on where it is that these events regard as home. So, it is not merely the immediate locale of the festival that can be regarded as ‘local’; the ‘local’ can be extended to encompass the nation or the entire region if that is where ‘home’ has been identified. Such an extensive and fluid understanding of ‘local-ness’ not only defines those areas to which the festivals pay specific attention, it also furthers understanding of the festivals’ shared ambitions; ambitions rooted in the cultivation of a ‘local’ documentary filmmaking milieu.
Date of Award2012
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMette HJORT (Supervisor)

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