Worrying about China: Storytelling, Humanitarian Intervention, and the Global Circulation of Independent Chinese Documentary

This talk explores the impact of cross-border collaboration on independent Chinese documentary. Through a study of Wang Jiuliang’s Plastic China (2016), Dr Robinson argues that the film, which passed through training events run by CNEX and the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Programme in China, bears the formal impact of the industrial-humanitarian logic central to these workshops: character-driven storytelling. The latter format is, Dr Robinson argues, understood by transnational stakeholders such as CNEX and Sundance as key to generating a global Anglophone public for independent Chinese documentary. Tracing this logic through the workshop mechanism, the film’s form, and audience reactions to its screening in the UK, Dr Robinson suggests the result is a viewer response privileging personal action over structural critique – what in this context he terms ‘worrying about China.’ This allows him to locate the documentary in relation to broader liberal arguments over China’s place in the world system and assess the limitations of this approach to ‘going global’ for independent Chinese documentary.

Luke Robinson is Senior Lecturer in Film Studies in the Department of Media and Film, University of Sussex. He is the author of Independent Chinese Documentary: From the Studio to the Street (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), and the editor, with Chris Berry, of Chinese Film Festivals: Sites of Translation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).