the spirit of the times
Director Yung Chang is no stranger to Zeitgeist’s offices – the Chinese Canadian filmmaker has been a familiar face here at Z since he won multiple awards for his 2007 documentary Up the Yangtze. Back now for the release of his latest, China Heavyweight (also a documentary), Chang and I sat down for a chat about boxing, filmmaking, and a famous feud involving a certain mopey Canadian.
I read in a few interviews that you were excited about making China Heavyweight because it was an opportunity to explore how the end of Mao’s boxing ban has changed life in China… but how did you initially come upon that as a topic?
Our producer, Peter Wintonick [who also produced Manufacturing Consent] found a story about boxing in China and presented it to me and was just sort of offering it to me as an idea. I kind of thought about it, and the first thing I started to do was dream about the films that I love about boxing. When I thought about On the Waterfront, and I thought about these sort of movies – western films about hard-up stories – it led me to think about putting, you know, that idea of a western boxing movie in China, what would that be? It wouldn’t be like, a kung-fu movie – I love kung-fu movies too, but what is a kung-fu movie? They often deal with themes like honor, loyalty, redemption – those kind of things. It’s sort of the boxing genre of Asia. Here you would look at boxing movies like the kung-fu movies of the West. So I was playing with that, I was thinking about that a lot. It really made me dream about what the story would be about. So I think the idea started with the daydreaming. Even with Up the Yangtze for example, I think it always starts with what do you imagine the film to be like, and what will it feel like? I felt like it would be that kind of story where you follow the evolution of someone trying to become something. And that was exctiing to me. The tropes of a boxing film were really exciting to me. And I wanted to try to make that happen.
Was it easy to get Coach Qi and the school to agree to let you in?
That wasn’t a problem! I think there was a mutual collaboration. Everytime you embark on a project, you always hope that there’s a give and take between that relationship, right? I think the Master and the Coach both saw the benefits of collaborating with us. But they didn’t think – a lot of people don’t really know what a documentary is in China. They think it’s like an interview, and then you go. You spend, you know, an hour and then you leave. We kept going back and back, like, two years later we were still shooting, you know –
Were they surprised?
They were. They got it after about the first month, they were like, “Okay these guys are here to stay.” We just hung out with them. And that’s what you do. You don’t shoot all the time, you spend a lot of time with them and you get to know everybody. And it was so fun! We had a great time making the film, and I got so close to everybody, and it was emotional. You really get wrapped up in their lives.
Do you stay in touch with Coach Qi?
I’m in touch with him constantly. Right now he’s training the girls for their first provincial match, competition – ever. It’s gonna be at the end of July, so he’s busy working on that. He came with us to Sundance and Toronto, he likes the movie. He says that the movie kind of is a true experience of a boxer in China.
Did he like the whole press experience of going to the festivals?
Well… the first time to America for him was Sundance, and that was maybe not the best thing for him because it was so jarring to be in the middle of nowhere with people just getting on buses everywhere going to see movies. It’s weird. I don’t think it was a good impression. But it was good that people loved him and were supportive and cried and gave him standing ovations, and they were just so – I think he needed that to be able to watch the film and just be able to get the scope of his character. To get an outside perspective of that. I think he likes that now. In Toronto he was a huge hit – we had a twitter thing where we arranged fans of the film to go train with him in the park. It was amazing – he had a great time.
I was just gonna ask if he trained you at all…
He likes to tease me a little bit, so – he beats me up. It’s hard to box. I can’t do it.
What are some of your favorite films, boxing or non-boxing?
You sort of have your flavor of the month. I can think of so many movies that are so different, and they have all been influential, and I love them. Like, Bicycle Thieves is a film that I love. If I wanna get artsy like that, I think Fanny and Alexander, Wild Strawberries, those kind of movies are awesome. Anything by Kurosawa is amazing. Ozu. I like David Lynch. Love documentaries, like good old verité documentaries. Grey Gardens, Hoop Dreams.
I think I saw on your blog a screenshot of Videodrome.
Oh my god, I love Cronenberg. Lately I’ve also loved Uncle Boonmee [Who Can Recall His Past Lives]. And then a movie that I constantly think about, that inspired the title sequence to The Fruit Hunters [Chang’s next documentary] is Enter the Void by Gaspar Noé. You can’t get it out of your head. Have you seen it?
I haven’t. It’s in my queue.
It’s crazy. And I think being in a movie theater is so important to watching a movie and having it affect you. Like when I think about – I remember seeing Lawrence of Arabia when I was high school at a rep house and it was CinemaScope; it was amazing. Those kind of things.
How long do you give yourself between projects? Or is it something you don’t really have control over?
I wish I could have more control – I wish I had the foresight to know that I should have control over it. But I’m a filmmaker that is sort of like that kind of actor who’s worried about where the next job is gonna be. I’m always gonna take everything I can take. I have the fear that people just lose interest and I’ll just – who knows what will happen in this fickle, fickle world of film. You wanna just keep working I think. It’s a practical, pragmatic kind of Chinese thing, I think, that makes me wanna do that. In an ideal world I would do one film and then get it out there and wait, go on holiday, go to the beach or go fishing, and then have the other film come out. Nope. For this one I had two movies shooting simultaneously – China Heavyweight and The Fruit Hunters – which is insane and I would not recommend again to anybody.
I have one final, very goofy question in relation to boxing. I don’t know if you’ve heard about this ongoing Chris Brown/Drake feud.
Oh yeah, they had a fight!
Well they’ve been offered a million dollars each to do a boxing match, and i don’t know if you had a theory as to who would win.
Do you know that Drake is Canadian?
He grew up near the high school I went to in Toronto. I don’t know what Chris Brown’s background is; what’s he like?
I think he had kind of a rough upbringing.
Who won the fight in the club?
Well Chris Brown had the cut on his face, which he claims is from a bottle that Drake threw, but Drake, as far as we know… well, Drake claims not to have done any such thing, but also didn’t have a scratch on him. So was there a winner? I don’t know.
Were they feuding over Rihanna?
That’s what the rumor is.
She is amazing that way. Okay, see, Chris Brown is not good for what he did to Rihanna. Drake though… whose music is better? There’s so many different categories you can measure in terms of gauging who would you want to win. God. I have to answer this.
But see, if I say –
You can say if it would be by points or by knock-out or by whatever. You can determine a lot of things about how you think it would go down. But ultimately I wanna know who you think would win.
Who’s at their fittest right now?
Probably Chris Brown.
He’s taller, he’s –
He’s definitely taller. And he’s a dancer. And Drake’s kind of like –
Drake’s not. He’s a crooner. Huh. Well, just knocking aside all their backstory – I think that Chris Brown would probably win. But it would be maybe by decision, it would be maybe like a ten-rounder thing and it wouldn’t be a knock-out. We’re talking about a judge deciding. Close.
I think I agree with you. I’ve thought about it a little bit.
Best question of the whole interview.
(This interview has been condensed and edited.)
China Heavyweight is now playing at IFC Center in NYC!
Directed by Emmy-Award-winning filmmakers Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine (Ballets Russes), this entertaining and inspiring documentary nimbly maps the creation of an industry that went on to become the single greatest engine of innovation and economic growth in the 20th century. Told by the visionary risk-takers who dared to make it happen—Tom Perkins, Don Valentine, Arthur Rock, Dick Kramlich and others—the film also features the audacious industrialists behind such groundbreaking companies as Intel, Apple, Cisco, Atari, Genentech, PowerPoint and Tandem. Our lives would be dramatically different without the contributions that these venture capitalist pioneers and their entrepreneurial partners have made to the creation of life-saving drugs, personal computers and the Internet.
Reblog for the chance to win Something Ventured on DVD!
You’re probably aware that yesterday was the first day of the Chinese New Year - this one being the Year of the Dragon (coincidentally, both Zeitgeist bloggers were born in another Year of the Dragon - we’ll let you guess which).
You might not have known that the Chinese New Year is the reason for the largest annual human migration in the world. Ready for some crazy stats? It’s estimated that this year 200 million people (mostly migrant workers) traveled/are traveling home to visit their families (in many cases, this will be the only time they’ll be together all year). The trip can take up to 48 hours by train (the most prevalent transportation method), and the majority of travelers won’t even have a seat throughout the journey.
The Chinese Rail Ministry unintentionally added to the chaos involved in booking tickets by setting up a website (for the first time) on which it was intended that Chinese citizens would be able to reserve seats ahead of time without waiting in long lines at train stations. Unfortunately, this site was woefully unprepared and experienced multiple crashes per day. Then there’s the fact that many migrant workers don’t have access to (nor experience with) the internet. NPR covered the uproar in this online radio piece (it’s short, give it a listen).
For a quick glimpse at what one of the New Year’s bus rides looks like, check out this 2010 report from Al Jazeera: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWz1DoP2vpc
You can get a more intimate look at this trek in Lixin Fan’s Last Train Home, which follows the family of Zhang Changhua and Chen Suqin, and how they cope with the strain of having to live so far from their rebellious teenaged daughter. Click through the pic for a link to a longer synopsis.
Megabus doesn’t look so bad now, does it?
As part of their coverage of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, the Salt Lake Tribune published this Q&A with director Jennifer Baichwal about working with and adapting the work of Margaret Atwood, as well as the concept of debt (the subject of Baichwal’s film, Payback).
Nice to see Bill Cunningham AND Guy Maddin on there!
Guilty admission: we can’t see any promo material for Cave of Forgotten Dreams without thinking of Herzog’s musings on albino crocodiles (which come in near the very end of the film).
Ten Great Documentaries You Should Stream on Netflix Right Now
- A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies
- Paris is Burning
- My Voyage to Italy
- The Thin Blue Line
- Exit Through the Gift Shop
- Cave of Forgotten Dreams
- Bill Cunningham New York
- My Winnipeg
- And Everything is Going Fine
This month’s Elle Decor magazine features this list of Diane Keaton’s favorite things. Number three on that list? Documentary films. Among her recent favorites - Bill Cunningham New York! How can a woman with such fantastic taste in hats be wrong?
Of her other favorite things, we passionately cosign on the High Line and WERTHER’S ORIGINALS. Especially the Werther’s. Blogger Rachel skips the Pavlovian mouth-watering stage and goes straight to stomach-ache-of-gluttonous-regret at the sound of a Werther’s being unwrapped*.
We remain somewhat tepid on the topic of lighthouses. So many stairs. Also, “meh” on the Nespresso front. Things that taste better than Nespresso: all of them (BUT ESPECIALLY WERTHER’S).
*Yes, the unwrapping of a Werther’s sounds different from the unwrapping of another candy.
Some people in the Zeitgeist office escaped from their desks long enough to see Almodóvar’s newest flick, La Piel Que Habito (The Skin I Live In), this past week… and were pleasantly surprised to see part of this clip from Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine (as well as other images of Bourgeois’ work) featured in the film!
According to Wikipedia, Louise Bourgeois is “recognized today as the founder of confessional art.” Her sculptures are fascinating depictions of the betrayal and distress she felt upon discovering that her father was having an affair with Bourgeois’ English governess. Just as fascinating as the work itself is watching the filmmakers (Marion Cajori and Amei Wallach) of the Louise Bourgeois documentary coax her to speak about her work and herself.
Bourgeois certainly had a lot to say; just not so much about herself. We picked out some of our favorite quotes from the film (The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine, not La Piel Que Habito):
“This desire to be likable, it is really a pain in the neck. How are you going to be yourself and be likable?”
“The purpose of sculpture is really self-knowledge.”
“A lot of people are so obsessed by the past that they die of it.”
Cited as a major source of inspiration for many of today’s most well-known sculptors and artists (she was the first woman to receive a major retrospective at MoMA), Louise Bourgeois passed away just last year - she was almost 99. Before she died, she also became an advocate for the LGBT equality movement. We like this quote from her: “Everyone should have the right to marry. To make a commitment to love someone forever is a beautiful thing.”
Almodóvar’s work is more about obsession than love (please let’s not argue about this), but for a deeper understanding of his latest, definitely give Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine a look.
Opens today at Film Forum!
The 6:30 show (which is followed by Q&A with director Jonathan Lee and producer/editor Kimberly Reed) is already sold out!
The Most Influential Man You’ve Never Heard Of: Paul Goodman
Opening today: Paul Goodman Changed My Life
Forthcoming from NYRB Classics, Goodman’s Growing Up Absurd
So who was Paul Goodman? As the trailer says, he was a public intellectual, a social critic, a poet, a playright, a queer pioneer, a pacifist anarchist, an urban planner, a family man, a co-founder of gestalt therapy—and a whole lot of other things that scrolled by too quickly to catch.
For those unfamiliar with Naomi Klein, the journalist/author is a prominent social activist whose bookThe Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007) inspired the 2009 Michael Winterbottom/Mat Whitecross film of (almost) the same name. That same film was featured (alongside Zeitgeist’s The Corporation) in indieWire’s list of ten docs to watch as a primer for Occupy Wall Street… and starting TODAY, the film (it’s just called The Shock Doctrine) is now available on DVD as a Kimstim/Zeitgeist release! Trailer for the film is here.
Klein’s site describes “shock doctrine” as: “… using the public’s disorientation following massive collective shocks - wars, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters - to achieve control by imposing economic shock therapy.” You can read the rest of her book’s synopsis on her site.
One more thing, a morale-boosting quote for the occupiers from Klein, who gave a speech on (and at) the Occupy Wall Street movement, ending with this: “Let’s treat this beautiful movement as if it is most important thing in the world. Because it is. It really is.”
If you’re like me, you probably find money really confusing (other things you find confusing: most things). Making it, saving it, not spending it on The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath or some other book I’ll never get to (so I can, I dunno, PAY MY RENT) - these concepts are only peripherally familiar to me. Directors Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller (both responsible for the 2005’s Ballet Russes), however, have oodles of knowledge on the subject (informed in part, no doubt, by executive producers Paul Holland and Molly Davis). Their latest film, Something Ventured, tells the fascinating stories of the entrepreneurial gambles that resulted in some of the biggest successes in the history of business… ever.
As a nod to the (controversial, but ubiquitous) late Steve Jobs, we bring you this clip from Something Ventured in which Mike Markkula, one of Apple’s first investors (and CEOs), talks about the origins of Apple and his first impression of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. A note to all the gentlemen out there: investors do NOT like goatees*. Markulla isn’t the only man in the film to wrinkle his nose at the inexplicably controversial facial hair of Jobs and Wozniak (but for more complaints, you must see the film!).
Something Ventured is currently only available via educational screenings (for info on how to obtain an educational DVD, see our site)… but will be available for consumer purchase in April 2012. Stay tuned, and get to a screening in your area!
*may only apply to 1970’s era investors