Visions du Réel is delighted to announce that the Guest of Honour for its 55th edition (12 – 21 April) will be the exceptional Chinese filmmaker, Jia Zhang-Ke. A leading figure in independent Chinese cinema, and contemporary cinema more broadly, Jia Zhang-Ke will be presenting a masterclass exploring his captivating and multifaceted oeuvre which examines the history of his country and the characters who inhabit it. A retrospective of his films will run throughout the edition. A tribute made possible once more thanks to the precious collaboration with the Cinémathèque suisse and ECAL (university of art and design in Lausanne).

“Since the outbreak of Covid-19, I haven’t left China for almost four years. The 55th Visions du Réel will be my first trip to Europe after these four years. I feel like embracing the world again, as excited as a child about to go on a long trip for the first time. I am heading to Nyon, for cinema that reveals the world as it really is.” – Jia Zhang-Ke

Born in 1970 in the mining region of Shanxi, bordered by the Great Wall of China, Jia Zhang-Ke is a leading light in contemporary cinema. He belongs to a generation of Chinese filmmakers who were profoundly affected by the Tiananmen Square protests. His diverse filmography, which comprises more than 20 short and feature works, borrows elements from both genre and non-fiction cinema. Switching from taught thrillers to documentaries and encompassing a myriad hybrid formats woven together by non-professional actors, fictional works on a canvas of reality, and fantasies bypassing otherwise restrained stories, Jia Zhang-Ke has spent two decades creating a filmography as coherent as it is shifting.

His stylistically diverse oeuvre deploys the full range of cinematographic techniques (16 and 35mm, DV, HD, etc.). Approaching his subject as a visual artist, Jia Zhang-Ke offers a subtle and subversive immersion in Chinese society, imbued with a sublimated realism. Resisting censorship and tirelessly defending the cultural significance of his country’s cinematic output, Jia Zhang-Ke weaves long-form, epic-style stories to explore personal and multifaceted journeys that challenge the notion of dissolution of the individual within the national narrative. 

Ever willing to wrestle with the realities of China’s recent history, the filmmaker offers a profoundly humanist representation that draws on memories and recollections. To achieve this, Jia Zhang-Ke creates a narrative polysemy that focuses its gaze on the everyday lives of ordinary people living in “intermediate towns” scattered between the rural life and that of the country’s burgeoning megacities.

By doing so, Jia Zhang-Ke’s films dissect the promises and mirages offered under the forced march of modernisation in effect since the 1960s. They examine the effects of this collective story, specifically the imposition of state capitalism on human beings, by providing a romantic and sensitive counter-narrative. An essential and uncompromising filmography that has often fallen foul of the government’s strict censorship regime.

Graduating in 1997 from the Beijing Film Academy, Jia Zhang-Ke returned to his home city of Fenyang in the Shanxi province to create his first full-length feature, Pickpocket(1997). Conceived with meagre resources and without authorisation, the film cast a disillusioned eye, in a distinct documentary style – like several of his other titles – on Chinese society, landing it with a national broadcast ban. His next three works met the same fate: Platform (2000), The Condition of Dogs (2001) and Unknown Pleasures (2002). However, the latter was included in the Cannes Film Festival’s Official Selection. His melodrama, The World (2004), was the first of his films to be screened in Chinese cinemas, and starred his wife, the actor Zhao Tao, who has appeared in all of his fiction films since 2000. She won numerous awards for her performances in Mountains May Depart (2015) and Ash Is Purest White (2018).

Starting with 2006’s Dong, the filmmaker then embarked on an expansion into non-fiction cinema, by adopting the viewpoint of the painter, Liu Xiaodong. He followed this up with Useless (2007), an exploration of the textile industry in China, and 24 City (2008), which examines the disappearance of workers’ towns and the country’s modernisation. He recounted the history of Shanghai in I Wish I Knew (2010) and gave voice to three Chinese writers on the changes taking place in their country in Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue (2020).

His work has received many accolades, including the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival as well as the award for Best Director at the Asian Film Awards for Still Life (2006) and the award for Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival for A Touch of Sin (2013). His entire career has also been honoured at some of the world’s most renowned film festivals, including Locarno, where he received the Golden Leopard in 2010, and the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes, which awarded him the Carrosse d’Or in 2015.

Alongside his work as a director, Jia Zhang-Ke also contributes to China’s film production. Mr. Tree (2011), Dead Pigs (2018), The Best Is Yet to Come (2020), The Calming (2020) and White Building (2021) are among the many films he has co-produced. In 2017, he and the legendary film historian and festival director, Marco Müller, founded the Pingyao Crouching Tiger Film Festival (PYIFF), which aims to promote the work of young Chinese filmmakers.

In April, Jia Zhang-Ke will join other leading figures in contemporary cinema previously honoured by Visions du Réel, including Lucrecia Martel, Marco Bellocchio, Claire Denis, Werner Herzog and Emmanuel Carrère, among others.

 

2020   Visit (fiction, short film)
2020    Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue
2019    The Bucket (fiction, short film)
2018    Ash Is Purest White (fiction)
2017    The Hedonists (fiction, short film)
2015    Mountains May Depart (fiction)
2015    Smog Journeys (fiction, short film)
2013    A Touch of Sin (fiction)
2011    Yulu (collective documentary)
2011    3.11 A Sense of Home (collective documentary)
2010    I Wish I Knew
2008   Cry Me a River (fiction, short film)
2008    24 City (hybrid)
2007    Our Ten Years (fiction, short film)
2007    Useless
2006    Dong
2006    Still Life (fiction)
2004    The World (fiction)
2002    Unknown Pleasures (fiction)
2001    In Public (mid-length film)
2001    The Condition of Dogs (short film)
2000    Platform (fiction)
1997     Pickpocket (fiction)
1995     Xiao Shan Going Home (fiction, mid-length film)