Ke Dingding and Guo Jing are not your typical independent Chinese filmmakers. They don’t live in Beijing; their films aren't explicitly political; and they’re not distributed by the New York indie operation, dGenerate Films. Far from living beneath the radar, Ke and Guo have day jobs at Shanghai TV, and make their own independent docos on the side. Intelligent, personal and often profoundly sad, these documentaries are a reminder of the diversity of Chinese independent filmmaking: it’s not only the underground DIY crew who demonstrate courage and a critical eye.
At Shanghai TV, Ke and Guo have made programs about celebrity blogger, Han Han, and the much-admired choreographer, and transgender role-model, Jin Xing. In their own time, however, they make intimate films about everyday people in contemporary Shanghai, often focussing on the pressures Chinese society puts upon its children.
Their documentary, Circus School, is a particularly painful film about a school for children training for China’s highly competitive circus industry. First Period: The War Of Growing Up follows the lives of three students at one of Shanghai’s most prestigious primary schools, revealing similar cycles of stress, expectation and a fear-driven need to succeed. More complex still, When My Child is Born exposes – piece by careful piece – the conflicts and burdens of a young Shanghai couple. After the birth of their daughter, the couple long for their independence, yet find themselves more bound by obligations to their parents than ever.
These are just three of Ke and Guo’s more well-known films, and those that are available internationally. However if you can get a hand on anything they’ve made it will be rewarding. Keep your eyes peeled for their names in film festival catalogues and television schedules.
Below are excerpts from a brief interview I conducted with them by email recently.