I was thrilled to finally release my feature documentary film "Americaville", on China's replica of the American Wild West, at the 2020 Santa Barbara International Film Festival. I returned to the festival after premiering my first feature documentary "The Land of Many Palaces" at Santa Barbara in 2015. I had follow-up screenings and Q&A sessions at the School of Cinematic Arts and the US-China Institute at USC, The Long Institute at UCI, and the Center for Chinese Studies at UCLA.
During late May and early June this year, filmmaker Kadri Koop and I co-directed and shot "Fantasy Factory" throughout China and are currently in post-production.
"In a series of photoshoots, a disorienting docu-fantasy explores the dissonance between desired and lived realities against the industrial, rural, and replica-cityscapes of contemporary China."
While living and teaching film in China during early 2017, I spent 3 weekends shooting "Nightworld" in Chongqing - one of the world's largest, but strangely unknown, cities with a population of over 30 million. The film was entirely shot at night, beginning as a study on urban night activities throughout the city, with an emphasis on performance. While shooting and researching the city, I came across a community of scaler daredevils, who climb buildings and structures throughout the city and take photographs that are later posted on Instagram and Chinese social media accounts. It took a while to build a line of communication and trust with the community, as what they do is technically illegal. On my second trip, I managed to meet with two mute-deaf scalers - Cao Yu and Liu Zhixin - who climbed together and agreed to let me follow them. Their journey throughout the city, climbing various structures, became the backbone of the final short film, from which I build out other shot and night scenarios of the city. The final film plays just under 6 minutes, is without dialogue, and features music by Rob Scales who I worked with on "The Land of Many Palaces" and "Americaville"
Originally I planned to shoot my feature documentary "Americaville" over a 3 month period last summer, while living in the Chinese replica of Jackson Hole, Wyoming on the outskirts of Beijing. Upon receiving feedback after presenting a trailer of the film at the Peterhouse Graduate Symposium 2015 in Cambridge, UK and at GZDocs 2015 in Guangzhou, China, I decided to continue shooting. In December 2015, The New York Times published an article about the replica of Jackson Hole. The story was picked up by the Chinese state media, which widely criticised the residents of the town for being unpatriotic. Here is the original NY Times article.
I returned to shoot in Jackson Hole over Christmas 2015 and Easter 2016 to capture the reaction of the townspeople to losing the ability of defining themselves on their own terms. This criticism they received had a profound affect on the general mood of the town, but my main character Liu Hua seemed initially undisturbed and intent on continuing to live her dream life in Jackson Hole. The two shoot trips were made possible by the support of the Bruckmann Trust.
Above left: The Jackson Hole Children's Choir organise themselves to performs carols on Christmas Eve in the Jackson Hole church.
Above right: Some of my documentary characters enjoy Christmas dinner at Liu Hua's home.
Above: Liu Hua prepares a cake for her husband over Easter.
Above: My interns QiYuan and KeHui from the Beijing Film Academy during the Easter shoot.
I attended Sheffield Doc Fest 2016 to pitch my film to the Whicker's World Foundation. I walked away with the runner-up funder award, while "Burma's Lost Royals" won the 80k grant. The grant will allow me to continue shooting for the rest of the year.
We enjoyed a great run of screening throughout the spring, ranging from film festivals to art gallery screenings. We screened in Beijing, Moscow, Philadelphia, Rotterdam, Wroclaw, Tartu, Copenhagen, Brussels, Washington DC, Budapest, Peterborough, and Tallinn.
Above: Taking audience questions at Budapest Architecture Film Days.
Above: The introduction to our screening at the Millennium International Documentary Film Festival in Brussels, Belgium.
Above: We screened at the Copenhagen Architecture Festival alongside the great new documentary, "Chinese Dreamland".
Above: "The Land of Many Palaces" picked up the Best Directing award at the Moscow International Documentary Film Festival.
Above: We screened at the beautiful Kumu Art Museum in Tallinn, Estonia.
In the autumn I discovered the world of architecture film festivals, after screening "The Land of Many Palaces" at Beijing Design Week, the Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam, the Architecture and Design Film Festival in New York, Urban Eye in Bucharest, and at Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam. The circuit of architecture film festivals is a great network made up of people passionate about sharing films on architecture and urbanism's profound influence on us all. I'm looking forward to screening the film at more architecture and design film festivals, organisations and biennales in 2016.
I'm thrilled "The Land of Many Palaces" won "Best Newcomer Feature Documentary" at the IAFOR conference in Kobe, Japan last year. The film will go on tour around the IAFOR conferences around the world in 2016.
I recently finished the Americaville feature documentary shoot in Jackson Hole, China. It was an eventful second half of the summer with the character and communal stories really coming together. I look forward to starting the edit in October.
I'm currently in the middle of the shoot for Americaville, a feature documentary about the community of Jackson Hole, China.
Since the American screening tour ended, "The Land of Many Palaces" has screened at several film festivals around the world, including the Beijing International Film Festival in China, DocAviv in Israel, Rome Independent Film Festival in Italy, and Documentary Edge Festival in New Zealand.
While on tour with "The Land of Many Palaces", it has been interesting to see how each screening venue has adapted the posters that were given to them. Here are a few examples...
The North American tour for "The Land of Many Palaces" came to an end on April 18th with a final screening in Toronto, Canada. I traveled non-stop for three months throughout the US and Canada to screen the film to a variety of different audiences, in many types of venue, including, film festivals, independent theatres, universities, organisations, museums, and schools. I also focused on garnering press about the film and Ordos.
Here are some photos from the tour...
Taking questions at the Film Expo for the Association of Asian Studies Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois, on March 27th 2015. The conference was a great opportunity to promote the film to the Asian Studies community.
A digital promotion banner for the film and taking questions from the audience at the Asia Society in Houston, Texas, March 4th 2015.
Sign board and the audience for "The Land of Many Palaces" screening at The Loft Cinema, Tucson, Arizona, March 3rd 2015.
The red carpet on the opening night of the Miami International Film Festival, March 6th 2015. "The Land of Many Palaces" screened in Little Havana on March 8th.
Screening at the Human Rights Film Festival in San Francisco, California, on April 10th 2015.
"The Land of Many Palaces" Q&A session, hosted by Robin Smith, Hot Docs Programmer, at Innis Town Hall, Toronto, April 18th 2015.
The World Festival Premiere of "The Land of Many Palaces" at Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2015
Ting and I recently premiered "The Land of Many Palaces" at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. We attended the opening night film screening of "Desert Dancer"...
On the second day of the festival we screened "The Land of Many Palaces" at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, followed by a screening at Metro 4 Theatre on the third day of the festival...
Both screenings were sold out and were followed by a lively Q&A session.
You can read our interview with the Santa Barbara Independent here:
Our final two preview screenings of "The Land of Many Palaces" took place at the University of Toronto for the Munk School of Global Affairs, and at the University of Victoria for the Center for Asian Pacific Initiatives. I attended both to take part in the lively discussions that followed each screening. I look forward to retuning to Canada in April to screen the film at the Bloor Hot Docs Theatre in Toronto.
As we gear-up for the official festival premiere of "The Land of Many Palaces" later this month in California, Ting and I have been doing some press for the film.
Here's an interview we participated in for The Wall Street Journal:
In the mountains, north of Beijing, stands a replica of the Wyoming ski-town of Jackson Hole. Home to a few thousand residents, the town offers respite to Beijingers seeking not only an escape from the city, but an escape from China itself.
Shooting outside the church in Jackson Hole, China.
Main Street, Jackson Hole, Hebei... Complete with man-made snow!
Earlier this December Ting, Qihan and I preview-screened our feature documentary "The Land of Many Palaces" to audiences in Beijing. The screenings were held at a mix of academic institutions (Peking University, Beijing Normal University) and cultural organisations in the Hutongs (Courtyard Institute, Zajia Lab, Meridian Space), plus a screening for the Foreign Correspondents Club of China held at the French Embassy.
Thank you to those who helped us organise the screenings, and to those who came out to attend them: The feedback we received was very encouraging. We look forward to our world and US premiere in January 2015, and all the screenings that will follow.
"The Land of Many Palaces" poster on display outside the Courtyard Institute, Beijing, December 2014.
Ting (co-dir, co-prod), Adam (co-dir, co-prod), and Qihan (co-prod) during the Q&A session, after the screening of "The Land of Many Palaces" at Meridian Space in Beijing, December 2014.