Watching documentary: Critical public discourses and contemporary urban Chinese film clubs

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

7 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The past several years have seen a surge of interest in Chinese documentary films. A quick search on the internet returns numerous results on Chinese documentary film screenings both in China and abroad. With this rising interest, important academic research has begun to appear on the topic. However, most, if not all, of the existing studies focus on documentary film as "text," and detailed analyses of the social context of production, distribution, and exhibition remain sparse. Highly informative works on how documentary films are produced, utilizing interviews with film directors, have appeared, and these studies provide important insights into the social context of the production of Chinese documentary. Nevertheless, research that deals with the issue of how Chinese documentary films are actually circulated, exhibited, watched, and discussed by Chinese audiences is virtually non-existent. In this chapter, I attempt to fill this gap by presenting an empirical study of documentary film consumption and audiences in contemporary urban China. From February 2003 to August 2004, I conducted an ethnographic study of "film clubs" in Beijing, where a group of audiences watch independent films including Chinese documentary works.4 I participated in and observed a variety of activities organized by film clubs, as well as interviewed the organizers and the members/participants, which included a fair number of documentary filmmakers. With this empirical data in hand, I ask two key research questions. First, what kinds of topics are discussed and what types of opinions are expressed by the documentary audiences in urban Chinese film clubs? Second is a theoretical question inspired by J?rgen Habermas's discussion of what he calls the "public sphere": Given the continuing existence of restrictions on and (self-) censorship of independently produced documentary films in China, to what extent do the film clubs approximate the Habermasian ideal type of "public sphere," which consists of voluntary associations outside the spheres of the state and the economy? By closely comparing the Chinese reality with Habermas's ideal type, I attempt to elucidate the distinctive characteristics of the urban Chinese film clubs under the specific historical and institutional conditions existing in contemporary Chinese society.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNew Chinese Documentary Film Movement, The: For the Public Record
PublisherHong Kong University Press, HKU
Pages117-134
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)9789888028511
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint

Public Discourse
Documentary Film
Documentary
Clubs
China
Ideal Types
Public Sphere
Social Context
Empirical Data
Empirical Study
Beijing
Screening
Organizer
World Wide Web
Ethnographic Study
Academic Research
Voluntary Associations
Economy
Filmmaker
Film Director

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

Cite this

Nakajima, S. (2010). Watching documentary: Critical public discourses and contemporary urban Chinese film clubs. In New Chinese Documentary Film Movement, The: For the Public Record (pp. 117-134). Hong Kong University Press, HKU.

Watching documentary : Critical public discourses and contemporary urban Chinese film clubs. / Nakajima, Seio.

New Chinese Documentary Film Movement, The: For the Public Record. Hong Kong University Press, HKU, 2010. p. 117-134.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Nakajima, S 2010, Watching documentary: Critical public discourses and contemporary urban Chinese film clubs. in New Chinese Documentary Film Movement, The: For the Public Record. Hong Kong University Press, HKU, pp. 117-134.
Nakajima S. Watching documentary: Critical public discourses and contemporary urban Chinese film clubs. In New Chinese Documentary Film Movement, The: For the Public Record. Hong Kong University Press, HKU. 2010. p. 117-134
Nakajima, Seio. / Watching documentary : Critical public discourses and contemporary urban Chinese film clubs. New Chinese Documentary Film Movement, The: For the Public Record. Hong Kong University Press, HKU, 2010. pp. 117-134
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