Past Event

The Seen and Unseen: New Directions of Documentary Cinema

June 15, 2016 - June 19, 2016
6:00 PM - 1:00 PM
Columbia Global Centers | Beijing

You are invited to a workshop "The Seen and Unseen: New Directions of Documentary Cinema" from June 15 to 19, which includes filming screenings and panel discussions, featuring Richard Peña, Professor of Film, Columbia University School of the Arts; Lydia H. Liu, W.T. Tam Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University; Ying Qian, Assistant Professor at Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University, as well as prominent Beijing-based scholars, filmmakers and critics as listed below


June 15 (Wed)  6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. Film screening 1 and discussion led by Professor Richard Pena: Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel, 2012)

Immortalized both in literature (the novels of Herman Melville) and the visual arts (Winslow Homer, Leonard Craske), the US commercial fishing industry has in recent years come under severe strains, faced with increasing foreign competition and an intense industrialization that has practically wiped out the small, private fisherman in favor of enormous fishing vessels that are practically floating factories. Members of Harvard University’s Sensory Ethnography Lab—a group of anthropologist/filmmakers dedicated to finding new ways to document culture and society—Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel spent many months going out to sea with this new breed of commercial fishermen. Avoiding didactic information or commentary, the filmmakers immerse us into the daily/nightly sights and sounds of the fishermen, as they attempt to capture the experience a kind of work fast disappearing in the US. 

June 15 (Wed) 8:00 p.m. - 10:15 p.m.  Film screening 2 and discussion led by Professor Richard Pena: The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2014) 

Joshua Oppenheimer’s THE ACT OF KILLING has one of the most widely discussed documentaries of the new millennium. A portrait of the actual and fantasy lives of several men who participated in the massacre of Indonesian communists and ethnic Chinese in 1965-66, the film daringly mixed genres and allowed the self-admitted killers to fashion their own version of historical events. In this widely praised companion piece, Oppenheimer returns to Indonesia and to several of the people we met in the first film, only this time in the company of an optometrist named Adi, whose older brother was tortured and killed. Oppenheimer and Adi force the killers to confront not just their acts but more crucially their impact on the lives of family members and friends, who in many cases were note even alive when the killings started. For a nation which still largely denies or glosses over one of the most brutal political upheavals of the 20th century, THE LOOK OF SILENCE documents how the first step in healing and reconciliation might be simply recognizing the existence of the other, the enemy, as a human being.      

June 16 (Thur) 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.  Film screening 3 and discussion led by Professor Richard Pena: Containment (Robb Moss and Peter Galison, 2015) 

Each year, the world produces hundreds of kilograms of nuclear waste, a by-product of everything from power plants to scientific research. What is to be done with this potentially hazardous and even lethal material? Robb Moss and Peter Galison explore the political, economic, and perhaps most crucially moral dimensions of this increasingly challenging issue. Should nations simply decide to sacrifice part of their national territory to store their own waste, essentially establishing “dead zones” where no one would be allowed to settle?  Or should they be able to transfer it to other nations willing to take it on? What is the responsibility of manufacturers and governments to generations 10,000 years in the future, who will still need to cope with dangers of contamination from leakage in storage facilities? These and many other issues are posed and thoughtfully addressed in a work that, no matter what side of the nuclear issue you are on, recognizes a problem all of humanity must urgently address.

June 17 (Fri) 

  • 4:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. Panel 1: Being in the World: Sensuous Experience and Ethnographic Filmmaking, chaired by Professor Richard Pena 
  • 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. Our Terrible Country (Mohammad Ali Atassi & Ziad Homsi, 2014): It is the first screening of an outstanding work of Emergency Cinema in China. For its urgency and unique vision, Our Terrible Country won the 2014 Grand Prix of the International Competition at FID Marseille. It will be introduced by Professor Lydia H. Liu. 

Syrian filmmakers Mohammad Ali Atassi is an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose films persistently explore the theme of political engagement in today's middle east and the relationship between the intellectual and the society at large.  His new documentary, Our Terrible Country, is a road movie documenting a perilous journey undertaken by former political prisoner and leftist intellectual Yassin al-Haj Saleh, and young photographer and the film's co-director Ziad Homsi, through their war-torn country. From Douma near Damascus, to Raqqa in Northeastern Syria, eventually to Istanbul, the two travelers and the filmmaker together reflect on the Syrian revolution, and observe the dire conditions in which they find their country today.  

June 18 (Sat)

  • 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Panel 2: Reckoning with Power: The Documentary and Politics, chaired by Assistant Professor Ying Qian
  • 2:00 p.m.- 3:30 p.m. Conversation with Jia Zhangke: Chinese Independent Cinema, 20 Years after Xiao Wu
  • 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. Xiao Wu (Jia Zhangke, 1997)

June 19 (Sun)

  • 10:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. Panel 3: Filming History and Memory, chaired by Professor Lydia H. Liu

Invited Panelist:
June 17 (Fri)

  • Liu Daxian (刘大先), Research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, film and television cultural critic 
  • Zhu Jingjiang (朱靖江), Director of Center for Visual Anthropology of Minzu University of China
  • Wu Qiao (吴乔), Research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
  • Gu Tao (顾桃), Ethnographic documentary filmmaker

June 18 (Sat)

  • Wang Xiaolu (王小鲁), Film critic
  • Li Tuo (李陀), Research Scholar at Columbia University, writer and critic
  • Bao Kun (鲍昆), Photography critic
  • Zhang Xianmin (张献民), Independent film critic, and curator

June 19 (Sun)

  • Fu Hongxing (傅红星), Documentary film director and professor of Film Studies, Beijing Normal University
  • Shan Wanli (单万里), Film scholar in history of documentary film in China
  • Wu Wenguang (吴文光), Filmmaker

Sponsored by
Columbia Global Centers | Beijing
Columbia University Weatherhead East Asian Institute
Columbia University Institute for Comparative Literature and Society
Columbia University School of the Arts

The event is free and open to the public. Registration is required. Light refreshments will be provided. 

Richard Peña, Professor of Film, School of the Arts. He founded the MA program in Film Studies: History, Theory and Criticism (HTC) at Columbia University. For 25 years, from 1988 to 2012, Professor Peña served as the Director of the New York Film Festival and now he is its Director Emeritus.  MORE

Lydia H. Liu (刘禾), Wun Tsun Tam Professor in the Humanities; Director, Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University. She is a theorist of media and one of the foremost scholars of comparative literature in the United States. She is also a creative writer in Chinese.   MORE

Ying Qian (钱颖), Assistant professor at East Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University. She received her doctoral degree from the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University. She is also a filmmaker, critic and film programmer, and has been programming documentary and Asian cinemas for the last five years. MORE