Chinese Filmmaker Zi'en Cui Presents Night Scene and Discusses Gay Activism and Underground Filmmaking in China
by Kai-man Chang
Posted: November 21, 2008
Cui was invited by Columbia University to participate in the 4th Reel China Documentary Festival. During his two-week stay in the U.S., he was invited to screen his films in New York University, Bowdoin College, and Trinity University. The University of Texas at Austin was his last stop before he returned to Beijing.
Night Scene is a challenging film. Not only does it touch upon male prostitution (among the biggest taboos in contemporary China) but it also blurs the boundaries between documentary and feature film by inserting an episode of gay son discovering his gay father's adultery. During the Q and A session, Cui explained that Night Scene was meant to deconstruct the hierarchy between fiction and reality, homosexuality and heterosexuality, as well as hierarchies found within gay communities. Cui's bold and intimate portrayal of underground male prostitution challenges our perceptions of normality and abnormality. Moreover, as the film unfolds, Cui draws attention to the gradual erasure of distance between camera and interviewee—initially depicting a fish tank between the camera and the subject and culminating with the director's arms around the interviewees. Cui is cautious about the intrusiveness of the camera and his role as a documentary filmmaker. He asked the audience not to take his film or his interviewees' words as a matter of fact.
In addition, Cui compared similarities and differences among tongzhi (gay and lesbian) movements and discourses in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. He stated that he admires the openness of Taiwan's society in accepting the tongzhi movement but disapproves of people who delve into the history of ancient China to look for a "gay" icon. He believes that Chinese lesbians and gays need to engage with present-day society, rather than the past. In the end, Cui discussed about the difficulty of organizing queer film festivals in China. Cui presented the Beijing Queer Film Festival as an example; it inaugurated in 2001, and this year witnessed its third festival. The film festival remains illegal, however, and often faces crackdown by the Chinese government. Cui, nevertheless, remains optimistic about the future of the tongzhi movement in China.