I did this interview with filmmaker J.P. Sniadecki and it was published on VICE China. I translated it to English so that more people could read it.
In terms of the China in a foreigner’s eyes, we probably should go back to the late Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni. The master was invited to China by the then Chinese Prime Minister Zhou En’lai, and he made a documentary called Chung Kuo, Cina, which pissed the Chinese government off at the time. Interestingly enough, almost no one in China actually did watch this film, but it appears every Chinese knew something about this Italian guy and his ‘intentional malice’ towards China, thanks to propaganda. As time went by, China became more and more open. The citizens gained more and more freedom. Thanks to the pirate/bootleg dealers, the once banned film is now available to Chinese audience. Many of them exclaim that “This film is just awesome,” because it “reflected everyday life of Chinese people truthfully” back then.
However, people argue about what documentaries should present and how they should present their subjects all the time. Besides the Chinese independent documentary filmmakers, more and more western artists start to create their works around China— the once mysterious and forbidden piece of land. And their works are getting no less controversies than Antonioni’s.
J.P. Sniadecki is one of them. He’s an American. He has a Chinese name, Shi Jiepeng. This guy focuses on documentaries and non-fiction films, and he picked up Mandarin by talking to strangers while he was travelling on the trains in China. Most of his films were shot in China so far. In the past few years, he made Sichuan Triptych, Songhua, Demolition and Huangpu. Recently, he finished People’s Park (with Libbie Cohn), and Yumen (with Huang Xiang and Xu Ruotao), and these two films have been well received internationally. J.P. is also an anthropologist (an occupation that confuses people all the time).
According to documentary filmmaker Wu Wenguang, [Note: This man is regarded as the founding father of Chinese documentary films.] “Those foreigners who have flocked to China to make documentaries after Mr. Antonioni, most of their works are not worth watching at all. They are just making a living by shooting China.” So before the Chinese lunar new year, I had a little chat with J.P.. I wanted to know that how he is making a living by shooting China, allegedly.