Wang broke into the international documentary scene with his landmark debut film, the nine-hour long Tie Xi Qu: West Of The Tracks (2003)

WHO is he?

Chinese filmmaker who has made seven films that include documentaries and fictional features. Wang broke into the international documentary scene with his landmark debut film, the nine-hour long Tie Xi Qu: West Of The Tracks (2003), which is among the most important films made in the last decade.

WHAT are his films about?

Themes

One of Wang’s films is called A Chinese Memoir, a phrase that effectively summarises what his cinema represents. His films examine the nooks and crannies — forgotten people and forbidden spaces — of a nation marching stridently ahead. Without exploiting their subjects or beautifying their drudgery, these films present the life of that cross-section of populace which was once at the heart of Maoist China: workers.

Style

The cinematography in Wang’s films is functional: handheld digital camerawork in available light that is justifiably content on documenting what is unfolding in front of it, rather than embellishing it with compositional strategies. The shots are extremely long, lasting several minutes with long uneventful stretches, and absorb the rhythm of life and work of its subjects. Modest and patiently observational, the camera in Wang’s cinema is less the perspective of an author than that of an eyewitness.

WHY is he of interest?

In the half dozen or so works that he has made till date, Wang has successfully sealed his place as a pre-eminent chronicler of a China whose face the state doesn’t want the rest of the world to know. Strictly speaking, his place is not among the revered documentarians of the world — theoreticians who are exploring the limits of form and the nature of cinema — but among cine-activists who work with cinema’s inherent capacity to remember, record and preserve.

WHERE to discover him?

Produced, directed, shot and edited in secrecy by Wang, West Of The Tracks charts the life of workers and residents in Shenyang district during a period in which China started the mass shutdown of electrical and smelting factories in a move towards denationalising state enterprises. Arriving during the final throes of a utopian socialist dream, Wang’s film is a strong portrait of a country in transition and a potent summation of the state of the Third World during the first decade of the new century, where what is touted as progress comes at a major human cost.