WHO is he?
Widely heralded filmmaker from China who rose to prominence in the international film scene during the last decade, classified as a leading member of the Sixth Generation of mainland Chinese cinema. Jia’s films take an abrupt break from the export quality costume dramas hitherto famous in the West to directly engage with China’s rapidly transforming socio-cultural climate. He won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2006 for Still Life.
WHAT are his films about?
Having been part of a generation that has witnessed the most drastic cultural changes that China has undergone — from Mao’s Cultural Revolution to globalisation — Jia regularly tackles themes of cultural deracination and social alienation that such large scale overhauls necessarily bring. Jia’s films are often set in the nation’s rapidly changing, diminishing industrial environments and document the experience of people living through such profound transitions.
Jia’s films are characterised by an abundance of gradual pan shots — shots that tie people together and to their environment — and long takes, in which entire scenes unfold in the master shot. Jia mostly shoots on location and with natural light (or a single light source, at most). He has embraced high definition digital photography in his recent films and has taken more liberty in bending the documentary/fiction divide, as he has in breaking genre boundaries and tonal conventions.
WHY is he of interest?
One of the most important filmmakers of the last decade, Jia is at the vanguard of not just Chinese art cinema, but also of new millennial international cinema. His films, more than any others’, capture what it is to be living in a developing country at a historical juncture such as this. His films are very particular — historically, thematically, geographically and politically — and that is what gives them their sharp edge. These are films that are urgent yet never sensational, critical yet never angry and elegiac yet never sentimental.
WHERE to discover him?
First film that Jia made, surprisingly enough, with the approval of the state, The World (2004) depicts the everyday lives of workers in an international theme park where life-size replicas of world wonders are exhibited. The World is an incisive portrait of a world in the grip of globalisation, a high-efficiency simulacrum in which identities are systematically stripped off and one becomes a guest in one’s own homeland.