A reality check

With a tradition that goes back to millennia, China has a rich, fascinating, and very characteristic culture. But also is a culture with a huge amount of inertia that makes it very difficult for independent artists to deviate from the canon and succeed.

This is an issue that in recent years has become more evident with legislation introduced by the CCP to “encourage performing arts productions that promote a classic view of Chinese culture”.

The reality of such legislation is that de facto makes the funding of any production that doesn’t follow the cultural guidelines of the party very difficult, if not impossible.

This puts in a very dire situation to a younger and independent generation of artists and choreographers that have different narratives and styles to explore and offer. Without the possibility of making a living doing what they love to do, their only chance to be known and show their works is through “independent” platforms that fund their works.

The RAW program initiative, with the support of the Shanghai Theater Academy, is one of such platforms. With public and private funding it promotes the works of young Chinese artists and choreographers, and educates the public about new approaches in contemporary music and scenic arts.

Raising Artist Works

‘RAW’ is a short documentary (27 min) that revolves around the Rising Artists’ Works program, an initiative whose main focus is to serve as a promotional platform for young and talented artists across China.

By analyzing the background of the program and following some of the artists involved in the 2015 edition, this documentary brings to light the difficulties and paradoxes that independent-minded artists have to face in modern China from the perspective of Chinese choreographers and mentors.

The Challenge: The Catch

My producer had guaranteed my independence when choosing the angle of the story and its visualization, the shooting was smooth as a documentary can be, the footage was beautiful and the interviews with the artists and mentors revealed a profound struggle in which they had to choose between pursuing their creative nature or give up and find another job doing something else. I was sure the documentary would turn out just great.

But then it came the first cut and the subsequent first feedback, and after a heated call with my producer, I knew the documentary I had in mind was going to change. For now, I knew that the Shanghai Theater Academy, my client, was in fact, chaired by one government official, who wasn’t very happy with my incisive and policy-critical first cut.

What came next were months of negotiations and back and forth in which both parts, me and them, ended up giving away because of exhaustion. The final cut wasn’t what I had in mind, but it did justice to the stories the people had trusted me with during the interviews. I think it was a good compromise considering the circumstances. “RAW” was aired on national TV and got a good reception. A bittersweet feeling.

After it was over we were approached by the Chairman of the Shanghai Theater Academy who told us that despite having been a royal pain in the ass, she liked very much the film and she would miss us. We kindly told her the same.

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