Would I rather be watching "Still Life" again at the IFC Center this weekend or going to Sundance to drown in a sea of cinematic mediocrity? Okay, the question isn't entirely fair. There's always a few stellar gems playing somewhere in Park City, but the trick is actually finding them. With Jia Zhangke, one of the world's most important filmmakers and perhaps China's most indefatigable indie maverick, you can pretty much count on a near-masterpiece every time--that is, if you're up for his brand of film art.
I spoke with Jia during the New York Film Festival (my interview appears in the Village Voice this week -- see "Generation China"), and while our conversation didn't exactly tease out the machinations behind his brilliant aesthetic decision-making, he did offer some refreshingly candid views on contemporary China and an update on his latest projects (a dramatic film called "24-City" and his third artist portrait, following "Dong" and "Useless," about Chinese architects in Mongolia).
While it didn't make it into the Voice piece, Jia had some choice words for filmmakers and artists in China today. "There shouldn't be any self-censorship on the part of the artists," he said. "There is still this fear of the consequences. There shouldn't be this fear. They shouldn't set limitations on themselves, as well. They should be open and talk about things in the open and provoke discussion."
While Jia believes the rise of the Internet and China's global aspirations will "break down the boundaries of a sole authority that controls all aspects of their lives," he also believes it's important for filmmakers to stand-up and express themselves. "As an individual artist, maybe he or she really can't do much," he said. "But in terms of the collective, in terms of arts and culture, artists definitely play an important role in China right now: to focus on self-awareness and inspire people to reflect."