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Visiting Directors
A Tribute to Zhang Yuan

Internationally acclaimed director and producer Zhang Yuan has become one of China's leading cinematic voices with his urban realist works. Born in Nanjing in 1963, Zhang Yuan graduated from the Beijing Film Academy in 1989 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in cinematography. One year later he produced and directed his first feature length film, Mother, winning the Audience Award at the Nantes Film Festival. His second feature, Beijing Bastards, completed in 1992, was the first totally independent film of post-1949 mainland Chinese Cinema. Since that time Zhang Yuan has continued to produce and direct a variety of award-winning documentaries and fiction films and maintains an active career as a music video producer and director for MTV. In 1994 Time Magazine selected Zhang Yuan as one of the hundred young leading figures of the world for the next century. Zhang's latest film Seventeen Years received its world premiere in September at the Venice Film Festival and was awarded the Special Prize for Direction.

This series would not have been possible without the invaluable efforts of Zhijie Jia, as well as support from Professor Leo Lee of the East Asian Cultural Studies Workshop, A Friendly Inn, Adams House, Asian American Association at Harvard, Renée Wright of Lens to Lens, Peggy Parsons of The National Gallery of Art.

In conjunction with the visit by Zhang Yuan, the Harvard Film Archive is delighted to welcome back Jimmy Tan, one of China’s most enterprising and creative film producers. In addition to producing Zhang’s films East Palace/West Palace, Crazy English, and Seventeen Years, Jimmy Tan has produced such recent works as Ermo (1994) and The Emperor’s Shadow (1997). We express a word of special thanks to Jimmy Tan for Graciously granting us the opportunity to premiere Seventeen Years.


November 2 (Tuesday) 8:30 pm

Sons

Directed by Zhang Yuan
China 1995, color, 35mm
Chinese with English subtitles

This story of a family torn apart by alcoholism and insanity is remarkable for the genesis of its plot. The director heard the story of his downstairs neighbors, a retired couple (former professional dancers) and their two deadbeat sons who hit hard times when the father’s alcoholism and resultant commitment to a mental institution nearly destroyed the family. Zhang Yuan went to the mental hospital, "borrowed" Mr. Li, and re-enacted the family’s troubles with the four family members playing themselves in the film. The title was suggested by the father himself, who told Zhang Yuan: "only some men are fathers, but all men are sons."

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November 12 (Friday) 9 pm
November 13 (Saturday) 9 pm

East Palace, West Palace

Directed by Zhang Yuan
China/France 1996 color, 35mm, 90 min.
Chinese with English subtitles
With Si Han, Hu Jun

There is no law against homosexuality in China, but persecution needs no law; homosexuals are hounded and often arrested for "hooliganism." A-Lan, a young writer, taunts a policeman and manages to have himself interrogated for an entire night, in which he tries to maintain both his right to his own sexual identity and his infatuation with the policeman. A-Lan’s night-long recital of his particular tastes reveals the coloration of the general repression of Chinese society. Like his earlier work, Zhang’s film is diamond-hard in confronting subjects never openly discussed in China, but here he demonstrates a new sophistication in technique and production. East Palace, West Palace is sumptuous in its images, and the performances by the actors are both rich in psychological understanding and emotionally moving.

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November 3 (Wednesday) 8:30 pm

Crazy English (Fengkuang Yingyu)

Directed by Zhang Yuan with Li Yang
China 1999, color, 35mm, 90 min.
Chinese with English subtitles

Li Yang, China’s most famous motivational speaker, is the force behind Crazy English. His rallies, a blend of hilarious agit-prop theatre and linguistic aerobics, lead their massive audiences on a joyride through American English.Chiding his listeners for their love of Coca-Cola and Toshiba, Li prods them to train their "international muscle" by shouting such slogans as "I enjoy losing face!" or "I have been wanting to buy a car!" His message is crazily familiar as he equates freedom with getting rich and unmasks the insatiable consumerism at the core of market-driven democracy. This time, Zhang takes a crisply direct approach to his subject, slyly allowing Li’s fondness for repetition and paraphrase to speak for itself.

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November 5 (Friday) 8 pm
Director Zhang Yuan in Person
Tickets are $8 for this HFA special event
November 6 (Saturday) 7 pm

Seventeen Years

Directed by Zhang Yuan
Guonian Huijia China 1999, color, 35mm, 90 min.
With Liu Lin, Li Bingbing, Li Yeping, Liang Song, Li Juan
Chinese with English subtitles

Seventeen Years is a human tragedy. After viewing a touching scene on television of prisoners meeting with their relatives, Zhang was prompted to visit a number of prisons where he discovered that every inmate has an intricate story. Here, he portrays a woman who is imprisoned for killing her stepsister in the heat of an argument. It is the story of a family, of people overcome by their surroundings, and of human feelings restored to life. Filmed at Tianjin First Prison where the real-life woman was jailed, Seventeen Years is the first film production to have received government permission to show the actual interior of a Chinese prison.

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November 19 (Friday) 7 pm
Director Frederick Wiseman in Person
Boston Theatrical Premiere!
Tickets are $8 for this HFA special event

Belfast, Maine

Directed by Frederick Wiseman
US 1999, color, 16mm, 248 min.

Belfast, Maine is a film about ordinary experience in a beautiful old New England port city. It is a portrait of daily life with particular emphasis on the work and the cultural life of the community.

Among the activities shown in the film are the work of lobstermen, tug-boat operators, factory workers, shop owners, city counselors, doctors, judges, policemen, teachers, social workers, nurses, and ministers. Cultural activities include choir rehearsal, dance class, music lessons and theatre production. 

"Suffused with a valedictory feel that is part timing, part subject matter, Frederick Wiseman's Belfast, Maine stands with the very best of the documentary dean's substantial body of work, a shrewd and meticulous late-October look at the various cells of the living organism that is this small New England port town." —Variety.

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December 4 (Saturday) 7 pm
Tickets are $8 for this HFA special event
Boston Theatrical premiere!
This event is co-sponsored by the Davis Center for Russian Studies at Harvard University

Director Alexei Gherman in Person

Directed by Jacques Rivette
France 1976, 35mm, color, 145 min.
With Bernadette Lafont, Geraldine Chaplin, Kika Markham
English and French with English subtitles

One thing that may be said for certain it is that Alexei Gherman is a director of passion and perseverance. In nearly thirty years, the Leningrad-born director has succeeded in completing only four films. Checkpoint (a.k.a. Trial on the Road), finished in 1971, was immediately shelved for 15 years. Twenty Years Without War (1976), while admired by many, including Andrei Tarkovsky, was essentially undistributed until 1986. My Friend Ivan Lapshin (1982), his most famous film to date, was based on stories written by his father and recreates the material hardships and paranoid psychology of Soviet life during the 1930s. The film was promptly banned by the commissars only to be among the first films freed under glasnost. It recently was ranked by a Russian critics’ poll as one of the 10 Best Films in Soviet History. Gherman's long-awaited new film, Khrustaliov, My Car!, was seven years in production. Inspired by Joseph Brodsky's essay "In a Room and a Half," the film received its world premiere at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival and has been shown to great critical acclaim in festivals throughout the world. To date, however, it has found no U.S. distribution.

The Harvard Film Archive wishes to thank Jytte Jensen at the Museum of Modern Art and Svetlana Harris for their enormous assistance in arranging for this screening and the appearance in Boston of director Alexei Gherman and his wife, co-scenarist Svetlana Karmalita.

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December 4 (Saturday) 7 pm
NOTE: Director will not be attending as was previously announced.  Screening will take place at regular admission prices. ($5, $6)

Khrustaliov, My Car! (Khrustaliov, Machinu!)

Directed by Alexeï Gherman
Russia/France 1998, B/W, 35mm, 137 min.
With Yuri Tsourilo, Nina Ruslanova, Yuri Yarvet, Michael Dementiev, Alexander Bashirov
Russian with English subtitles

"The time is the winter of 1953, the place is Moscow. In this masterpiece of disorientation, Gherman creates a consistently amazing visual and aural rendition of the charged atmosphere of those sad times, in which no point of view is ever fixed, nor any shadow devoid of possible danger, nor any stray remark free from potentially lethal consequences. Taking off from the infamous ‘Doctor’s Plot,’ Gherman tells the story of Yuri Glinshi, Red Army general and famous brain surgeon, who is sent to the Gulag after an anti-Semitic purge. An odd mixture of jumpiness, exhaustion, and confusion permeates Gherman’s lustrous black-and-white images, adding up to an eye-opening representation of what it’s like to live in a totalitarian society where something monumental is taking place,although no one knows precisely what, nor when or how it will break. Profoundly personal, unrelentingly tough and oddly affirmative, Khrustaliov, My Car! is as brave as filmmaking gets. It is also an altogether towering achievement." —Kent Jones

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