by Elisa Teneggi
Let the year of the Rat begin! To celebrate the new year, Chinese Visual Festival has put together a screening programme that is a feast for the eyes, and a mouth-watering opportunity to delve into Chinese culture and contemporary filmmaking. So let hearts and minds shiver with anticipation and gear up for CVF’s regular season, which is returning to London this June.
As part of their exciting pre-season sessions, CVF brought director Qingyi Li’s critically and commercially successful debut Four Springs (2017) to Summerhall, Edinburgh on January 25th. The home-made documentary was introduced by CVF programmer Noémi Lemoine-Blanchard and then screened to a cheering audience of wide-eyed film enthusiasts; a couple of them was us.
As Noémi fittingly remarked, these are indeed weird days to be screening Chinese films in the West. With cinemas provisionally shut down in China, such a small-crowd gathering seemed to be conveying a message of hope and willingness to all the more confront the future with a bright, but conscious, gaze.
Memory, loss, and the time-winning power of unquenchable love are in fact Four Springs’ pivotal themes. Li recorded his family for years and began posting about his dad on his social network accounts. But a fun hobby soon became a huge internet hit, and Li hand-picked the best of his 250 hours of footage to sew up a delightful, surprisingly sophisticated tale of four New Year’s festival celebrations, tracking big and small changes in his parents’ everyday life.
Therefore, it seemed only appropriate that the screening took place in a former lecture theatre. We felt there was a lesson in humanity to be learned, something beyond textbooks, and embodied by gestures rather than words. As Heidegger would say, every little object counts as long as it belongs to the “world”, that is to say, as long as it is infused with human significance. Objects are conflations of space and time, and, as such, they outlive their owners. I heard someone sneezing in a very suspicious way during the screening, and I would bet there were tears running across the room. Indeed, something altogether wholesome.
Although CVF’s adventure has just begun, it definitely feels like the team knows where it’s heading. Partnering with the BFI, the British Council, and the Glasgow-based CCA (Centre for Contemporary Arts) and Confucius Institute among others, CVF has been bringing a thought-provoking selection of Chinese films to UK screens since 2016.
But there’s more to be done. In Qingyi Li’s father’s words, those who don’t entertain themselves are just dumbbells. And what better way than cinema for docere et delectare – teaching by entertaining? Films are highways connecting people and cultures, and CVF’s work gives proof. Four Springs displaced everyone while paradoxically making them feel strangely at home. And if you don’t trust my words, you still have time to check it out first-hand.
There’s one final CVF screening scheduled in Lewes on January 29th, and the menu reads The Rib, “a ground-breaking film exploring the experiences of China’s trans community” by director Zhang Wei. It sounds promising enough. And don’t forget to circle June 2020 in red on your calendars. As I told you, Chinese films are taking over London. It sounds like something you don’t want to miss.
Elisa is a writer for Loud and Clear Reviews, and is also pursuing a Masters in Film Studies at the University of Edinburgh. This year also sees her as lead organiser for the LLC Blethers presentation event in February. To her, ‘cinema is superhero movies (too)’.