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September 9 – September 30, 2017

An Ethics of Observation. Four Films by Wang Bing

Over the course of the last fifteen years, Wang Bing (b. 1967) has established himself as one of the few truly vital, original and urgent voices in contemporary documentary cinema, unparalleled in both his native China and elsewhere in the world. Extending the resolute legacy of cinema verité powerhouse Frederick Wiseman, Wang has defined a willfully unruly yet deeply empathetic humanism, guided by a tireless, soulfully compassionate camera that patiently chronicles the everyday lives of peasants, workers and drifters while skillfully setting them off against the vast and impossible landscapes of 21st century China. The films of Wang Bing categorically refuse the folksy and saccharine “character-driven stories” and bumper-sticker sloganism stoking the engorged market for easily streamable and digestible nonfiction cinema in today’s so-called Golden Age of Documentary. With brave candor and humility, Wang has dedicated himself to a mode of observational cinema that effaces its maker by insisting on the irreducible specificity of the unique lives ever-unfolding within his films and never forcing any individual figure or story to simply serve as emblem or microcosm of a larger condition. Wang’s recent films allow unfettered access to some of China’s most unsettling problems: draconian socioeconomic injustice and disparity; a surging population of displaced and unemployed men and women; adults and children drifting in the squalid margins of society in desperate search of steady work. Yet the revelations and enlightenment that comes from experiencing a Wang Bing film derive also from the raw beauty, tenderness and stark brutality of his imagery. The hard but deeply rewarding labor of witnessing, and therefore participating in, Wang Bing’s cinema elevates it to another level seldom achieved by documentary today. – Haden Guest


Saturday September 9 at 7pm Introduction by Cinemaographer Huang Wenhai
Saturday September 30 at 4pm

Three Sisters (San zimei)

Directed by Wang Bing
France/Hong Kong 2016, DCP, color, 153 min. Mandarin with English subtitles

High in the remote Yunnan Mountains live three sisters, ages ten, six and four, abandoned by their mother and left largely alone by a father who must travel vast distances in search of work. This heart-wrenching portrait of family and fidelity is grounded in the remarkable intimacy of camera and subject that is Wang’s extraordinary gift, allowing us to not only observe but to seemingly be a part of the daily rituals and rhythms of the girls, who miraculously never appear to struggle against their plight, instead abiding almost entirely within the everyday. Three Sisters is one of Wang’s most stark, elemental and beautiful films; a raw, unconventional beauty derives from the truth and subtlety of the unstated but everywhere palpable bonds connecting the children and their father, despite the distances and hardships that threaten to tear them asunder. DCP courtesy Icarus Films.

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Sunday September 10 at 7pm

Bitter Money (Ku Qian)

Directed by Wang Bing
China/France 2017, DCP, color, 152 min. Mandarin with English subtitles

A restless energy drives Bitter Money’s portrayal of the difficult lives of migrant garment workers who travel from rural Yunnan to the eastern city of Huzhou in search of scarce jobs and security. Like its uprooted subjects, Bitter Money seems to be ceaselessly searching for a center, a point of stability in a world set adrift by sleepless sweatshops and the crowds of slave laborers who fuel the world’s insatiable appetite for cheap and disposable goods. Bitter Money is arguably Wang’s most abstract film, the work that moves toward yet ultimately denies a socioeconomic vantage point able to survey a larger terrain. Instead Wang is drawn, again and again, to the individual lives unraveling slowly before his camera, trapped in a desperate cycle of endless work and impossible debt, an existential condition rarely rendered with such sadness and truth than in Wang’s uncompromised cinema. DCP courtesy Icarus Films.

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Saturday September 16 at 7pm

‘Til Madness Do Us Part (Feng ai)

Directed by Wang Bing
Japan/France/Hong Kong 2016, DCP, color, 238 min. Mandarin with English subtitles

‘Til Madness Do Us Part announced Wang Bing as the authentic heir to Frederick Wiseman with its gripping, shape-shifting portrait of an isolated “asylum” whose exact mission remains troublingly unclear throughout the film’s almost four-hour length. Simultaneously prison, hospital and refuge, the unnamed institution is peopled by a sprawling community of patients/inmates who range from the clearly insane to incarcerated petty criminals to others who have been simply deposited by families unable to care for their weakest or eldest members. Shot over the course of two-and-a-half months, ‘Til Madness Do Us Part takes place almost entirely within a single all-male floor of the asylum, resulting in a film that restores the true meaning of the term immersive now used too frequently to superficially describe contemporary moving image art. Following Wang’s restless, gliding camera, the viewer drifts through the asylum, gently observing but never privileging any of the men who drift, tranquilized, stunned, sleepless, lost. Never settling upon a single figure, ‘Til Madness Do Us Part is instead a choral and decentered film that tests our roles as privileged viewers and as extensions of the cinema’s surveillance apparatus. So engrossed, so immersed are we that a sudden burst of freedom becomes disorienting, unnatural, as we realize that we have become accustomed to the fluid enclosure of the asylum, where night is day and day is night. DCP courtesy Icarus Films.

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Monday September 18 at 7pm

Ta’ang

Directed by Wang Bing
Hong Kong/France 2017, DCP, color, 148 min. Burmese & Mandarin with English subtitles

With Ta’ang, Wang offers invaluable and deeply moving cinematic testimony to the terrible plight of refugees victimized by the intractable conflicts that enflame so much of today’s world yet rarely receive the attention or solutions they so urgently demand. Ta’ang is named for the Burmese ethnic minorities driven from Myanmar by the still-raging war between the Burmese Army and a strong insurgent movement that includes troops of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army. Wang’s haunting film inhabits the fragile camps and shelters of the refugees squatting in the border nether-zone, fleeing from the imminent threat of violence embodied in the quickening sound of bombs that recurs throughout the film’s second half. At the heart of Ta’ang are the whispering groups that huddle quietly around the firesides at night, telling stories, sharing cold comforts and creating a vital yet fleeting community trapped in an anxious waiting, bravely resolute despite the imminent threat of extinction. DCP courtesy Asian Shadows International.

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