Saturday, 19 November 2016

Time Passes

Winter beach, Jinshatan (Jeanne Pope)

It seems a long time ago since October 1st, since my last swim.
It is now November 20th, and the world has changed. However, we tend to forget that the only permanent thing in life is change…as my friend* Stanley Lewis, the Montreal sculptor, would say.
 *See appendix.


For us Montrealers, Leonard Cohen died. It is at times like these we mourn together, an old friend. He was our Main Mascot. Our legend. I was sent this poetic photo of his house on Marianne, Montreal, by my daughter, Alyosha:

Cohen's magic (Alyosha Pope)

I met him once, in 2006. After Stanley Lewis’ death, we celebrated with a show on his life as artist, in the Lambi Club, on the Boulevard St. Laurent*. Cohen had been asked to attend, as he was in town, and an old friend of Stanley. He didn’t show up. 12pm, we were packing things away, and I went down stairs to have a breather. A small rain fell, a squeegee punk* lent against the lamppost on the corner of St. Laurent and Mount Royal while an oddly rainbow haze fell from the midnight lamp light. It was very filmic . . . then I saw him walking slowly towards me, arms behind his back. I asked him if he would come and join us, and he said very quietly, “No need to come up, there is no need.” He was doing his remembering outside, on a quiet wet pavement on October 13th 2006. It was soulful. 
Leonard Cohen took my hand, bowed slightly, and bade me good night. And went on slowly down the road.

Here in China, although we are isolated from many things, within two hours of his death being made public a WeChat bio - our equivalent to Facebook - was made of his songs and shared around the country. If China didn’t know him before, 1 billion people know him now.

Fish drying (Jeanne Pope)
We follow the seasons as time passes, and now it is almost winter. 
Fish hang up to dry on the beach, and the old men’s club still gathers on the beach for their ritual swim and gym.

Men's club (Jeanne Pope)

Men's club (Jeanne Pope)
The Monkey Dancer finds the slither sun, and a mere weekend now to perform his martial arts for the local tourists who have almost disappeared.

Monkey dancer (Jeanne Pope)
The world is calm on the beach. It settles down for the oncoming winter months, into hibernation. I walk more quickly to school these days. I do not have much time to sit and reflect. I have so much work. Yet I still look for special signs as I walk. Today’s theme is hearts:

Jellyfish heart (Jeanne Pope)
Heart cloud (Jeanne Pope)

Punk heart and white aura (Jeanne Pope)
There are two months left now before school ends. Deadlines are underlined in red, and the anguish students go through when trying to choose a subject for their graduation film is real. No film, no pass next year.

The Lightstar awards happened last month. One of my students, Ti-luian - Anna - was shortlisted for her touching work on a Buddhist minority tribe and their monthly horse race. She will graduate next May and wants to go on to Canada. Sadly, her work cannot go far here. Documentary is still the underdog, and certainly not theatrically distributed. It would be hard for her to work in the industry uniquely in documentary, unless reporting for CTTV.

Anna is a Lightstar, October 2016 (Ming Lee)
Anna and I talk a lot about this. I understand her dilemma and desire to leave China to experience something else.  This is as natural as me being in China, from Canada, to experience something else. However, I remind her how vast the subject matter is here, and how much access we have. We do not need clearance papers, or signatures. Yes is yes, and no means no. Simple as that.

People are not camera-shy, they open easily and mostly happily to the camera. Faces light up wide and doors open into people’s worlds in a way we would not be able to enter so quickly in the West, unless of course we were Kim Longinotto.* So, it is up to us to find the way to present our documentaries. That is the issue, not to find the subjects - subject matter is omnipresent.

Jinan University of the Arts (Jeanne Pope)
I was invited to give a conference a few weeks ago at Jinan University of the Arts on docu-fiction and mixed media with one of our professors. We illustrated our talk with films we love in this genre, and our own work. It was exciting for the students as Direct Cinema is still the norm in the documentary classes, and what Chinese are more familiar with. However, new forms are encouraged and cross cultural exchanges more and more on the rise. Steps are being made, small but sure and solid steps, to explore new ways of seeing and expressing, as the current IDOCS forum from Beijing showed. * (November 12 – 17th 2016.)

My own work

Finally I met the director of Qingdao’s municipal archives with the purpose of finding film footage for my work on my mother’s story, Anne Patricia, who was born in Shanghai, 1930, and was brought up by her Amah. Her family fled due to the encroaching Sino-Japanese war; while her father remained in China. He left for Vietnam in the early 50s, where he died. Mr. Koln, the director, asked us to come by for tea and a chat to see how he could help us. 

Archives and Mr Koln (Jeanne Pope)

Being in his office was an archive in itself, and like stepping back in time, from the video camera they still sometimes use to the editing machines.

In the old days (Jeanne Pope)

We viewed German memorandums, letters from lovers, Chinese workers’ pay slips, early films of Qingdao being built, maps, the creation of the world famous Tsingtao beer,* and the big dream the Germans had to make a home away from home, and did well till the Japanese came along. 

During tea he asked us if we were interested to join him in his quest to archive Qingdao’s German quarter.

Teatime (Jeanne Pope)

Mr. Koln has been documenting Huangdao Lu, the old quarter in Qingdao, where the demolition of homes has been going on for years. These are German buildings from the early 1900s where the Chinese elite would have lived. Due to the fact no one knows really knows how to repair in the European style, and lack of care, they have since become slums. Many of the people will be relocated.

Orion window (Jeanne Pope)

Home (Jeanne Pope)

Entrance (Jeanne Pope)
He proposed we help him interview people in their homes before demolition or renovation takes place. Eventually to use for an interactive website of the old city. This poses four advantages:

  •  A gateway to understand Qingdao's history.
  •  A great way to practice Chinese. 
  •  An innovative and useful way for the students to do research and gain experience interviewing and finding a story. 
  • The chance for us all to learn how to use the complicated Chinese archival system.

Resident (Jeanne Pope)

Yard (Jeanne Pope)

The residents who live in the labyrinthine homes are divided in their feelings he told us. Some want to stay; and this is understandable because, despite disrepair, these are their homes, their identity - past, present and possible future. While others are quite happy to leave for a more modern and comfortable life with a nice hand-out from the government.

Mr. Koln wants to preserve the memories, and use those memories alongside the website to persuade the municipal government of the importance of preservation in the wake of relocation. Jinan old railway station* is an example.

Washing time (Jeanne Pope)

We were taken into the old yard of one community. This was once the best in Qingdao. Much had already been emptied. Walking into empty homes  where people had left only fleeting moments of their lives - furniture, letters, discarded toys - pushed me to take photos, before these domestic imprints could be scraped up and burnt. These photos are the only witness to a lifetime's existence.

Suddenly the power of the camera and Mr. Koln’s idea becomes important and as fundamental as when I was in Montreal and a student at Concordia’s Film School, documenting my neighborhood the Boulevard St. Laurent*, joining other painters, animators, writers and photographers in our need to remember and keep those alive. Today, the Boulevard has changed and all the Main Mascots have died. But many of us captured the legacy in our way, preserving a place, a time and its people through the lens. 

Window ledge (Jeanne Pope)

Mr Koln explained that as archivists they have to preserve their history, yet cannot romanticize it. If you still have to use the outside toilets, do not have proper running water, are old, sick and disabled, maybe it is better to go into a new home where the bathroom is inside and water runs freely.

Abandoned room (Jeanne Pope)
I will go next week with Anna to hunt out some characters and their stories. The plan is once a week for the next year or so.

(I have also been shown footage of Shanghai, 1931: street scenes, domestic scenes, business  and some smart Russian ladies about town, to which I will have access.)


Beijing Film Academy, Multi Creative Media College, Qingdao Campus.

Our film school is divided into 7 disciplines: Direction & Drama, Cinematography & Photography, Management, Performance, Sound, Literature, Animation.

Each department works separately, teaching a 4-year specialty. Ying and I are in the cinematography department and teach documentary to first year, third year and graduate students.

The four years are nose to the ground, intense, dedicated, and the incredible savvy technophile teachers teach at an incredible speed; their knowledge gobbled up by the students. However, like grammar lessons and rote learning, the students are only allowed to make small, ambitious steps in the first three years, and some subject matter is contentious.

In the fourth year, all that has been learnt is put into practice. Our students’ camera work by then is mostly extraordinarily beautiful; however their creative ideas lack. As cinematography is their craft, much emphasis is placed on them not only mastering the camera, but being able to walk away and work as a camera person immediately, no matter what the job, from wedding videos, to assistants on full-length features, to commercials and TV.

Four departments - Direction, Sound, Cinematography, and Literature - join together for the final graduation show with 6 to 8 fiction films. Film pundits come in to headhunt the most talented.

Cinematographers are revered at school, and there is a common joke that the directing department has words but no eyes. Fiction is still preferred above documentary for the glamour, the money, and the fact that fiction gets to the big screen and rules the TV with numerous soaps and TV dramas. The less aggressive student, the lone wolf or poetical thinker, usually chooses documentary.

Student life

Anna lives her life via Chinese social media, like most Chinese young people. She is thinking of opening an online company - these are popping up like mushrooms - selling short films, one minute long, targeting youth and youth issues. The whole of China is connected to their phones, an extension of their arms and hands, where a terrible snobbism exists on the type of phone you have - and what access you have.

I let Anna navigate for me. Cellphones are thicket deep with layer upon layer of sites. They open, they crash, then fall, then resurface. If you don’t have a phone in China, you basically cannot exist. It is your life. The cell is also a platform to be who you are. You can break out a little, break loose a little, and break wilder a little more than in public, or in a group, or with friends.

We walk and watch the waves break. The sea has changed in such a short time. The skies chiseled with silver lined streaks, reflecting to the water, echoing a near-solemn sadness as winter approaches.

Nearing school we meet this image:

Beauty on the beach (Jeanne Pope)

“I think she is beautiful, but marriage is not for me, not like this.” Anna pauses, “I will have to leave Chen Yu, it will break our hearts, but I have to fight for my dreams - to finish my film, improve my English and get to Canada.”  Her words fall, her personal mantra, and knowing Anna like I do, she’ll do it all, and really well.