- A lecture by Wang Bing
- Screening of Stonewalling (Huang Ji & Ryûji Otsuka, 2022), with English subtitles
Sabzian and Bozar are delighted to welcome Chinese director Wang Bing for the State of Cinema 2022. Every year, Sabzian asks a guest to write a State of Cinema, and to choose a film that connects to it. This way, once a year, the art of film is held against the light, an invitation to reflect on what cinema means, could or should mean today. Wang Bing chose the film Stonewalling (2022) by Chinese-Japanese duo Huang Ji and Ryûji Otsuka. The film gives an insight into the life of Lynn, a Chinese young woman who, after discovering she is pregnant, decides to take her fate into her own hands. Returning with a now adult Yao Honggui (Foolish Bird, Egg and Stone), Huang Ji and Ryûji Otsuka take a look at the new norms of gig-economy, grey markets, MLMs, and hustling in modern-day metropolitan China through the experiences of one ordinary young woman. Wang will come to recite his speech on the Bozar stage in Brussels.
This event is organized by Sabzian and Bozar. You can buy tickets at Bozar or on their website.
The day after the screening, the State of Cinema text will be made available for free on Sabzian’s website, in English, French and Dutch translation. The video recording of Wang Bing’s presentation at the Brussels arts centre will also be provided.
This year Sabzian is already organizing the fifth edition of the State of Cinema. In 2018, Belgian filmmaker Sarah Vanagt kicked off Sabzian’s new annual tradition. In 2019 and 2020, Sabzian had the honour of welcoming, respectively, Belgian filmmaker Claudio Pazienza and French filmmaker and author Olivier Assayas. For the 2021 edition, Sabzian welcomed the French film historian, scholar, author and curator Nicole Brenez.
Wang Bing (1967) is a Chinese film director. He graduated from the Film Academy in Beijing in 1996. At the turn of this century, Wang Bing entered film history when he boarded a freight train with a small rented DV camera and started filming the industrial district of Tiexi in northeastern China. The monumental Tiexi qu [West of the Tracks] (2002), a nine-hour document of China’s transition from state-run to free-market economy, and a chronicle of the Chinese working class, was the start of the oeuvre of a filmmaker who has taken on the invaluable task of weaving a map of this other China. From then on his films have always started from encounters with people on the margins of society amidst the vast and rapidly changing landscapes of 21st-century China. His other works include He Fengming [Fengming, a Chinese Memoir] (2007), San zimei [Three Sisters] (2012), Feng ai [’Til Madness Do Us Part] (2013), Ta’ang (2016), Fang Xiu Ying [Mrs. Fang] (2017), Dead Souls (2018) and the installation Caiyou riji [Crude Oil] (2008). In 2017, Wang Bing received the Golden Leopard for his film Mrs. Fang at the Locarno Film Festival and was awarded the EYE Art & Film Prize by the EYE Filmmuseum, where his work was exhibited in 2018.
Discover on Sabzian the Dossier ‘Wang Bing. Filming a Land in Flux’ about the Chinese filmmaker’s cinema, with texts by Lucy Sante, Jean-Louis Comolli, Thom Andersen, Emmanuel Burdeau and Wang Bing himself, among others. This compilation – compiled, edited and published by Sabzian, Courtisane and CINEMATEK – aims to trace Wang Bing’s trajectory through a series of writings and interviews published between 2009 and 2017.
Huang Ji was born in Hunan in 1984, and studied screenwriting in the Beijing Film Academy. Since her first short film, The Warmth of Orange Peel (2009), she has been focusing on exploring the secrets of women’s inner emotions.
Ryûji Otsuka was born in Tokyo, in 1972. He relocated to China in 2005 to work in independent filmmaking, and has since been serving as the cinematographer and producer for all the films directed by Huang Ji.
For more than a decade, Beijing-based wife-and-husband team Huang Ji and Ryûji Otsuka have been making films about the lives of young people in China – in many cases “left-behind children,” or those whose parents are forced to leave their families to find jobs in cities. Expanding their project, their gripping, humane yet uncompromising latest, shot with a precise formal economy by Otsuka (who also serves as cinematographer), focuses on a year in the life of Lynn (incarnated by the filmmakers’ quietly potent recurring star Yao Honggui), a flight-attendant-in-training whose plans to finish college are thrown into doubt when she discovers she’s pregnant. Not wanting an abortion (a decision she hides from her callow, absent boyfriend, away on modeling and party hosting gigs), she hopes to give the child away after carrying it to term, while staying afloat amidst a series of dead-end jobs.
“When our daughter was five years old, she often asked us a question: “Mommy and Daddy, why did you give birth to me?” This question reminded me (Huang Ji) of my own mother and my childhood. My mother was an obstetrician and often took me to the operation room to see child deliveries or abortions. Ever since China’s “One Child Policy” was changed to “Two-Children Policy”, Chinese women now have more choice regarding motherhood. However, the number of abortions have not declined. Why haven’t women decided to keep their babies? Have they become more numb to pregnancy than before? We wrote the story about a young woman’s pregnancy and spent ten months filming. We wanted to explore this numbness while making the film. At the same time, we were also slowly conceiving my daughter’s future. “Mommy and Daddy, why did you give birth to me?” She will find the answer to her question in Stonewalling.”
Huang Ji and Ryûji Otsuka
How do you work together? Who does what?
Ryûji Otsuka: Step 1: After the night has become quiet and dark, we lie in bed and Huang Ji tells me her observations and discoveries she has collected from her everyday life. And I take these elements and look for perspectives and begin to build a story.
Step 2: We begin to do research into the topic and interview those who live those lives. In the majority of interviews, we empathize with the vitality of the people and build their experiences into the film, and invite them to act in the film.
Step 3: On the set itself, Huang Ji takes care of the actors and their delivery, and I am responsible for the mise-en-scene. Afterwards, we review the material we’ve shot and restructure the story from there.
Stonewalling is the third part of a series made up ofand Foolish Bird, which all deal with sexual awakening, girlhood / young woman-hood and independence. All of them feature Yao Hong gui who rarely works in film outside your films. Can you talk about your relationship with her, and how has that evolved as she herself has become an adult? How did you first meet?
Huang Ji: When we shot Egg and Stone I scouted all the schools in my hometown before I found her. Her parents were economic migrants who had left her in their hometown (commonly referred to as “left-behind” children).
I could tell by her body language and the look in her eyes that she had locked herself up in her inner-world. We decided to shoot according to her rhythm. We observed her in everyday life; as she began to understand womanhood and experience her sexual awakening; her encounters with others and society. From her lived experience, we built a series of films focusing on female sensuality, identity and independence.
You mentioned in a previous conversation that it was important to you that the character of Lynn is not very bright, an average girl. Why was that a point to note?
In media, women are often portrayed as in-control and aware of what they are doing. Smart, conniving... But I think women do not have an innate ability from day one to absorb, analyze and act on what their bodies go through. Women need the physical lived experiences of their bodies to grow their understanding of themselves. I wanted to show Lynn as a very average girl facing a difficult situation. And in that difficult situation, which is largely out of her control and unplanned, we watch her face her predicament equipped only with her do-it- yourself instinct and hard work. This is female power.1
- 1. “ Interview with the Directors,” EPK.