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Chinese movie-making explored in dual TIFF video-art exhibit

Categories: Art & Design, Movies

New WomenYang Fudong's New Women is inspired by sultry depictions of the women of Shanghai's swinging 1920s and 1930s, the city's east-meets-west culture and the European classical art tradition of the female nude. (Sonia Recchia/WireImage/TIFF)

Toronto-area devotees of Chinese film are in for a treat this season with TIFF's vast summer movie sked A Century of Chinese Cinema, but a complementary video-art exhibit also aims to expand the conversation about the Asian nation's movie-making history.

"When we moved into TIFF Bell Lightbox, we knew we wanted to do something significant — something ground-breaking — around Chinese cinema, but we weren't sure what," said TIFF's Noah Cowan.

About three years in the making, A Century of Chinese Cinema is the ambitious and slightly controversial result. At its centre is a lineup of about 80 movies spanning the 1930s to modern day, featuring famous titles as well as little-known gems dug out from rarely accessed state film archives in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan — which have kept their collections isolated in the past.

As part of the extensive program of screenings, chats and related events, TIFF is also showcasing a pair of video artworks by notable figures: acclaimed cinematographer Christopher Doyle and established art filmmaker Yang Fudong. Yang FudongYang Fudong created the multi-channel video art exhibit New Women for TIFF Lightbox (Timothy Neesam/CBC)

Yang is a sought-after "moving image artist" who inspires block-long queues outside of major museums lucky to host his new works, according to Cowan.

The Beijing-born, Shanghai-based Yang is one of a recent wave of younger Chinese artists exploring the intersection of history, tradition and today's society through independent and art films. For TIFF, he has created a large and provocative multi-screen work titled New Women. It's inspired by the decadent, sultry depictions of women of Shanghai's swinging 1920s and 1930s, the city's east-meets-west culture and the European classical art tradition of the female nude.

"I have thought about this New Women [piece] for more than two years and I really like it," Yang said through a translator this week.

"The material from the past, from tradition, [is] actually all new if you have a good way to get in touch with it, to understand it."

According to Cowan, Yan's piece — which appears on massive screens mounted like monumental canvases in a gallery — "has really evoked this idea of how important women are in the history of Chinese cinema and how the radical break from the past in Shanghai of the 1920s and '30s was really the kickstarter for this new evolving world of women."

Chris DoyleAcclaimed cinematographer Christopher Doyle revisits his movie-making career in his art piece Away With Words. (Timothy Neesam/CBC)

Doyle's work, Away With Words, draws from his prolific filmography and touches on his unique perspective as a non-Chinese filmmaker who has become fully integrated into the Chinese movie-making community. Presented on several screens and set to music and voice-over, the work offers bite-sized interpretations of who he is and what he's been trying to say artistically, Doyle said.

Today's young filmmakers are part of a generation that draws most of its information from screens, he noted. "Their visual experience, their communicative skills, their colours — all informed by a screen," he said, adding that he anticipates fantastic things from young filmmaker colleagues.

"Where we are with YouTube and Facebook... we need to engage at different levels with people. A film in a cinema isn't enough. Even a DVD isn't enough. [Away With Words is] basically a discussion with myself and with an audience not interested, perhaps, in the work I usually do."

The free dual exhibit of Away With Words and New Women runs from June 7 to August 11 at TIFF Bell Lightbox. A Century of Chinese Cinema also continues through August 11.

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