This three-week documentary series presents select titles from Turn It On: China on Film, 2000-2017, co-curated by Ai Weiwei and Wang Fen. Originally shown by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum as part of Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World, this series features work by China’s most daring artists and filmmakers investigating the political, social, economic, and cultural conditions of contemporary China.
In addition to select theater screenings at SFMOMA, the complete Turn It On series will be available online starting January 10 via streaming service Kanopy, free to members of participating public and university libraries.
The twenty films that comprise this series were selected from hundreds of documentaries made in China over the last two decades. Chinese independent filmmakers began making documentaries in the early 1990s, coinciding with the wider availability of film equipment emerging in commercial markets at that time. Many of the filmmakers represented in this series are writers or artists with very little or no cinematography training who learned by doing. Although many of these documentaries were produced with modest budgets and are technically amateur, they all tell important stories, many relating to issues of personal struggle or social justice.
China has experienced dramatic change in recent years due to the state capitalist system, which has allowed for rapid socioeconomic improvements. However, the long history of the repression of personal freedoms and freedom of expression in China under authoritarian rule has remained largely unchanged. Today the country is still a tightly managed society that retains old communist ideologies. The state maintains control over all media, including films. Many documentary filmmakers in China face severe challenges–even life-threatening dangers–while producing their work. Recent documentaries reflecting the true conditions in China face censorship, and many filmmakers are accused of subverting state power.
This selection of documentary films reflects this harsh reality, which at times is difficult to accept, and even harder to watch. Some of these films’ never-before-seen stories are painful. But in the darkness, without an audience, the voices telling these stories are weakened. This is why we chose these films. Without hearing these voices, China cannot call itself a civilized society. So turn it on, let us listen.
– Ai Weiwei and Wang Fen
Kanopy is an on-demand video platform that allows users to experience a curated collection of thousands of the world’s best films, through partnerships and provided by more than 4,000 libraries around the world. Kanopy users can stream movies and documentaries from award-winning filmmakers and must-see film festival picks, and experience the best in independent and classic film, world cinema, and contemporary favorites.