In a China haphazardly completing its rapid economic transformation Cui Zi’en is an independent documentary filmmaker who braves censorship in order to represent societal changes through the eyes of the indigent.
“We are a comic-heroic generation, a lost generation,” a young man says in “Night Scene,” Zi’en’s documentary about Beijing’s young male prostitutes which is being shown here in Paris at the Forum des images, a multi-screen independent film center in the heart of the 1st arrondissement.
A film professor, gay activist, and the author of nine novels, including the first gay novel, Zi’en has used video as his mode of expression for the last twelve years. He has addressed many issues in Chinese society including the one-child policy imposed by the government in the late seventies and the plight of millions of rural people who have migrated to the cities to often run into countless new problems, least of all, a lack of jobs and the ire and contempt of others.
For Cui Zi’en, 54, video is not just an inexpensive tool: it’s also a medium that helps him circumvent censorship. “Censors can exercise their prerogative over what is submitted to them,” Cui Zi’en told the AFP (Agence France Presse), but, as other representatives of independent cinema doe, he bypasses censorship by showing his films in gay or non-official festivals, in bars or universities or via the internet or through DVD distribution.
An associate professor at the Research Institute of Beijing’s Film Academy, Zi’en turned to documentary in 2007 after having tried more avant gard material. “What I want to do is write a new history of China through giving a voice to the marginalized, the people whose rights are not recognized, who are despised, by filming their lifestyle, their way of survival,” he says.
Two of his films, “Night Scene” and “Queer China, Comrade China,” also presented in Paris, retrace the history of homosexuality in China, where it’s still a sensitive issue. In fact, homosexuality was still considered a mental illness until 2001. The country has between thirty and fifty million gays, according to estimates.
“Before my coming out I was someone–because I was a writer, a filmmaker and a teacher. From the moment I revealed my homosexuality, there was repression,” says the director.
He was questioned by authorities after attending a film festival in the United States, and was banned from traveling to New York to receive a literary prize awarded by an organization for the defense of human rights.
Cui Zi’en is nonetheless determined to tell the stories of those at the bottom rungs of Chinese society: “the marginal interest me, people who take up the fight against life.” (with source material from A.F.P)