Culture enthusiasts from China and abroad braved thunderstorms to watch an internationally acclaimed comedy-drama film at a community centre in Beijing last night, kicking of a month-long showcase of Chinese films which focus on life in the capital city.
Shower, directed by Zhang Yang, a Chinese film director, screenwriter and occasional actor, was originally released in 1999 to film festival audiences around the world, picking up a host of awards including best director at Spain’s San Sebastian festival.
This week, the film was viewed by an audience of travellers, expats and Chinese nationals closer to home at Beijing’s Culture Yard.
Tuesday nights have become Chinese cinema nights at the centre, which was set up in a quiet Hutong (old-style courtyard housing on Beijing’s original laneways) neighbourhood in late 2009 as a place for cultural exchange.
Each month, the screenings are organised according to a different theme and during June, the weekly movie will relate to Beijing. Beijing Bicycle, Little Red Flowers, and In the Heat of the Sun will be shown, in addition to Shower.
The screenings are hosted by Beijinger Ruby Li, a self-professed sociology fanatic, trapped in a banker’s body. Peng introduces each movie, providing a background to the storyline, actors and director, and then also facilitates discussion after the viewing on some of the themes raised in the film, whether they are of a cinematic or cultural nature.
Li selects the films to be shown and says they provide an insight into the work of important local directors as well as depicting different aspects of both modern and contemporary Chinese life.
A regular at the Culture Yard’s movie nights, a traveler form the Netherlands who is in the last weeks of a three-month Chinese language course at a Beijing university, agrees cinema is an easy introduction to a culture.
She says while her university language studies have been structured and scholarly, Chinese movies viewed with English subtitles, and the open discussions which follow, teach her a lot about both the language and the culture of her latest adopted home, in a relaxed, informal setting.
The movie night is a regular fixture on the Culture Yard calendar, which also includes language and calligraphy lessons, hikes, and traditional craft workshops among its culture-related events.
“The culture yard’s purpose is really for foreigners and Chinese people to communicate more, to understand each other more,” says office manager Camille Wong.
“So we have different courses and activities, for them to come together and met each other and talk about their life in Beijing and what they think about it.”
China Through Cinema Reporter Kim Bowden reviews a series of films as she attends the "China Through Cinema" events. She provides a glimpse into life in Beijing, a rapidly evolving city with an incredible history. Today she introduces the series and in her next article she will profile Zhang Yang's 1999 film Shower.