It’s maybe tougher for independent Chinese movie makers to film in Shanghai than in better-organized Beijing or Guangzhou, but many foreigners find this metropolis an inspirational, affordable, can-do and easygoing place to make indie films.
Some expats in Shanghai even realize their childhood dream of film making after working in other industries for years, like 41-year-old American writer Richard Trombly. Some fly here directly after film school graduation, hoping to join the booming film industry, like 27-year-old Canadian Jason Grill.
Still others arrive to further their professional film-making career and find more opportunities than expected in the cosmopolitan city, like 38-year-old German documentary film maker Silvia Schopf.
These foreign indie film makers, amateur and professional, have formed their own film community, pulling all their talents together and making connections with local film makers. Hundreds have come and gone since 2002.
They even have their own short film contest and festival ?? Shanghai Short Film Contest by Meiwenti (No Problem) Productions. Started in winter 2005, the contest is in its seventh season. The awards ceremony will be held on December 6 at Xinguang Film Art Center.
For these expat film makers, it’s easier and cheaper to make indie films in China. As observers in and of China, they also find it more inspirational to make the same stories ?? boy meets girl ?? in the context of a nation undergoing extraordinary and rapid changes.
“I want to become a professional film director in the mainstream film industry, but it’s very difficult in America. It’s also too costly to make independent films in the States,” says Grill. He flew to Shanghai four years ago after graduating from a small American film school. His parents and friends were all shocked by his sudden decision back then.
“In China, I get to meet a more condensed group of film talents rather than making random connections,” says Grill. “And they are much nicer to me compared with back in the States because we are all outsiders in this country. Plus, it is so much cheaper to live and to make films here.”
Grill does lots of freelance jobs like painting, editing, translating and acting as a guide to support himself and his work. He hasn’t earned much but considers it better than waiting tables in the US “because I get a lot more free time here to make my films.”
He made two short films in Shanghai ?? a film about relations between expat guys and Chinese girls, and one about old time longtang (alleyway) scenes and culture. He also made a documentary about Shaolin Temple in Henan Province.
Many American film school grads struggle to survive before they can make their first film. Even the lucky ones who get internships in film studios have to work like crazy on very low pay, leaving them no spare time to make their own movies. And only the luckiest might get a break after years of difficult and tedious work.
“There are too many competitors and people in the industry are known to be arrogant,” says Grill.
American Trombly, 41, shares the same dream of film making and feels a great sense of achievement that he realized that dream shortly after he arrived five years ago. He has made three major short films, acted in others, sold two scripts and now is working as an associated producer of one of them in Shanghai.
A movie buff, Trombly took part in student productions when he was young, but like many others he went on to a more realistic career as a writer, reporter and editor soon after he graduated.
“I came to China with a clear objective, to find new opportunities, and I’m so happy to be making my own films now,” says Trombly. He has made many connections at global film festivals worldwide where he sold two film scripts, one to a Chinese production company.
“By living in China, I have encountered so many stories that would make great films. I might make some films outside China later but I can’t see myself leaving Shanghai yet,” he says.
His short films concern universal themes set in China. “Real Time Data” focuses on a group of smart young people who never had the opportunity to attend college 10 years ago and now struggle because of limited opportunities.
He views these shorts as “an investment and marketing tool to allow me to go to festivals and meet people who can fund my features.”
In addition to fresh film makers Grill and Trombly, long-time film makers like German documentary director Schopf also see the inspirational perspective and more distribution opportunities in Shanghai.
A documentary and video installation artist for more than 10 years, Schopf has her own production company to make feature programs for TV stations and also teaches at film schools in Germany.
In 2004, Schopf was intrigued by a German report on famous Chinese female dancer and choreographer Jin Xing, who was born a male. Attracted by Jin’s sophisticated choreography and personality, Schopf applied for funding to make a documentary about her, “Shanghai Dancer.”
For three months she followed Jin in Shanghai and found the city “extremely attractive, friendly and full of stories.” She completed the documentary in 2006 and screened it in Shanghai and Munich.
Following the success of her first indie film in China, Schopf hopes to work in the city more often. She next plans a documentary on how Chinese businessmen employ the traditional “36 strategies” attributed to the “Art of War” by Sun-tzu in the Spring and Autumn Period (770-467 BC).
Jin is China’s “most famous transsexual,” whose life achievements “border on the revolutionary [and] overturned traditions long upheld in China,” wrote Sylvie Levey in London’s Daily Mirror. “High-ranking representatives of the Communist Party, dressed to the nines, pay a fortune to watch her perform from their seats in the front row.” But Jin believes her transsexuality is not the source of her success. Born in Shanghai, Jin Xing (“Golden Star” in Mandarin) exhibited exceptional grace at the age of 4, and, he says, by 6, he knew that he was different from other boys. When he was 9, he staged a hunger strike until he convinced his father, a military man, to allow him to enroll in the Chinese army’s dance school. At 18, after grueling years spent entertaining the nation’s troops, he was declared China’s best dancer and went on a scholarship to New York. There, he was “introduced to an alternative lifestyle in the gay bars on Broadway,” writes Levey. But Jin didn’t feel like a homosexual. He felt like a woman. In 1995, after his sex change, Chinese opera houses overflowed with crowds eager to see this unusual dancer. Tickets went for the equivalent of half the average monthly salary. “People complain about the system, saying there is too little freedom in China,” Jin says. “But there is always enough space to accomplish something incredible.”
By Erich Follath Spiegel Magazine
Jin Xing has a one-of-a-kind biography: born as a boy, he advanced to the rank of colonel in the Chinese army. Then came the sex change and the staggering career as a world-class prima ballerina.
Jin Xing poses in front of the Grand Theater in downtown Shanghai, on People’s Square, self-assured in a red, body-hugging turtleneck sweater and relaxed black jeans. A larger-than-life-sized poster of her visage, heavily made up as a cross between East and West, advertises her latest performance … read more
Jin Xing is the famous superstar of dance from china. She has won many prices and present worldwide as well as in her home Shanghai in the Shanghai Grande Theatre. In her brilliant ancepieces were broken and put together: Sexual-gender ideas; the rebirth, rebuilding in a hospital, refreshing her energy. Her ideas and the world and words of Jin Xing are new, strange and facinating: She has broken and rebuild everything. One of the secrets in the documatary-film is, that the viewer isn´t informed beside the end, that Jin Xing wasn´t always a woman. HER extraordinary brain and body movement comes from a deep knowledge of HIS body journey. The dance from Jin Xing and her company, the architecture of shanghai and interviews are mixed together in a choreographic way in the movie, which mirrors the time and the athmosphere in shanghai and the special charakter of Jin Xing.
Jin Xing is the famous superstar of dance from china. She present her choreographies worldwide as well as in her home Shanghai. Quotations of dance-forms like ‘cancan’ and new ideas were broken or put together in her brilliant dancepieces; including sexual-gender-themes, the rebirth, rebuilding in a hospital, refreshing the energy. One of the Secrets in the documatary-film is: Her extraordinary brain and body movement is coming from a deep knowledge of a body journey … The dance from Jin Xing and her company, the architecture of shanghai and interviews are mixed together in a dancing way in the movie, which mirrors the time and the athmosphere in shanghai and the special charakter of Jin Xing.
Jin Xing, the chinese superstar of dance in a rhytmic documentary. Training, shanghainese architecture and interviews are componized in an energetic film.