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Turn It On: China on Film, 2000–2017

PEN America is pleased to co-present “Turn It On: China on Film, 2000–2017,” a series of documentary films from China co-curated by artist Ai Weiwei and filmmaker Wang Fen, organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Presented concurrently with the exhibition Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World, the series will feature 20 rarely seen documentaries by more than a dozen filmmakers whose work investigates the political, social, economic, and cultural conditions of contemporary China. 

The works in this series offer urgent and often raw insight into issues of personal struggle and social justice existing in China today. Selected from hundreds of documentaries made in China over the past two decades, many of the films in “Turn It On” are made by writers and artists facing severe challenges in producing and distributing their work. Many of the films will be screened in the United States for the first time.

FILM SYNOPSES AND SCHEDULE

Screenings take place on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, October 13 through January 4. Daytime screenings are free with museum admission and take place in the New Media Theater. Evening screenings at 6:30pm include Q&A sessions with filmmakers, moderated by PEN America representatives, and require tickets. $20, $15 members, $10 students. Click here to purchase tickets.

Evening Screenings

Friday, October 13: Nightingale, Not the Only Voice
6:30pm
Purchase tickets »
Nightingale, Not the Only Voice follows the lives of three artists, including the film’s director, Tang Danhong, on their shared journey through real and psychological oppression to self-discovery. PEN America Senior Director of Literary Programs Chip Rolley will moderate a post-screening Q&A session with Tang Danhong.

Friday, November 3: We the Workers
6:30pm
Purchase tickets »
We the Workers features workers from different provinces spanning two generations who have resisted this force through activist struggle and action. PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel will moderate a post-screening Q&A session with the film’s director, Huang Wenhai.

Thursday, January 4: Fairytale
6:30pm
Purchase tickets »
In 2007, Ai Weiwei took part in Documenta 12 with a participatory event called Fairytale, after the Brothers Grimm. Ai invited 1,001 people from China, many of whom had never been abroad before, to travel to Germany, live in a dormitory of Ai’s design, and freely wander the city and the exhibition. Fairytale opens with the project’s inception and takes us through its full enactment, recording the experiences of participants of all backgrounds to create a series of portraits woven together by a single event. A discussion will follow the film; participants will be announced.

Daytime Screenings

Friday, November 17: Nightingale, Not the Only Voice
12:40pm
Free with museum admission »
Nightingale, Not the Only Voice follows the lives of three artists, including the film’s director, Tang Danhong, on their shared journey through real and psychological oppression to self-discovery. Tang Danhong examines her past—particularly her relationship with her parents—and looks at the painful, formative moments that inform her current psychological state, her life, and her art.

Saturday, October 14: Fairytale
12pm
Free with museum admission »
In 2007, Ai Weiwei invited 1,001 people from China to travel to Kassel, Germany, as part of a participatory event for Documenta 12. Fairytale opens with the project’s inception and takes us through its full enactment, creating a series of portraits woven together by a single utopian event.

Saturday, October 14; Saturday, December 16: Disturbing the Peace
2:35pm; 1:30pm
Free with museum admission »
Following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, activist Tan Zuoren was arrested for investigating the deaths of thousands of children who died when government-built school buildings collapsed. Ai Weiwei, also investigating the situation, was invited to testify at Tan’s trial and subsequently suffered police harassment that culminated in a beating that caused cranial trauma. This film records Ai and his lawyers as they repeatedly travel to Chengdu to seek an explanation from the authorities.

Friday, October 20; Saturday, December 2: Falling from the Sky
12pm
Free with museum admission »
Beneath the veneer of celebrations for the 2008 Olympic Games, the 160,000 residents of Suining are forced to face their peculiar fate of satellite debris falling from the sky.

Friday, October 20; Friday, December 15: The Road
2:30pm; 12pm
Free with museum admission »
The construction of the Xu-Huai Highway in Hunan province has laid the landscape and many historical and cultural sites to waste. As this miracle of modern engineering takes shape, it offers an apt allegory for the dreams of a nation.

Saturday, October 21; Saturday, December 16: Dream Walking
12pm
Free with museum admission »
Four artists living on the margins of society whose passionate discussions belie their impoverished living conditions struggle with the uncertainty of their lives and artistic identities.

Saturday, October 21: We the Workers
1:30pm
Free with museum admission »
The “China miracle” has been built on the backs of hundreds of millions of migrant laborers. This film features workers from different provinces spanning two generations who have resisted this force through activist struggle and action.

Friday, October 27; Friday, December 1: Storm under the Sun
12pm; 2pm
Free with museum admission »
Animation, archival footage, and interviews depict the persecution of Hu Feng, a renowned writer and literary critic who championed artistic freedom and was denounced and jailed during one of Mao Zedong’s purges of intellectuals in the 1950s.

Friday, October 27; Saturday, November 18: Readymade
2:20pm; 2:30pm
Free with museum admission »
Mao Zedong died in 1976, but his impersonators are alive and well. This film documents two people who resemble Mao and assume Mao roles in contemporary entertainment.

Saturday, October 28; Friday, November 24: When the Bough Breaks
12pm; 1:40pm
Free with museum admission »
With rapid urban development spreading across Beijing, a family who scavenges a living from the landfills that once covered the city’s Daxing District struggles against the vagaries of so much change.

Saturday, October 28; Saturday, December 2: Plastic China
1:55pm; 2:30pm
Free with museum admission »
Chronicling the lives of two families operating a plastic recycling facility, Plastic China examines global consumption and culture through the eyes and hands of those who handle its refuse.

Friday, November 3; Friday, December 8: Petition
12pm
Free with museum admission »
In this long-form documentary filmed over more than a decade, petitioners at Beijing South Railway Station Petition Office are confronted by contradictions in a system intended to protect citizens from legal injustice and political violation.

Saturday, November 4; Saturday, December 9: Jiabiangou Elegy: Life and Death of the Rightists
12pm
Free with museum admission »
Survivors of the Jiabiangou labor camp and their children recount the persecution of over three thousand people sent for re-education through labor during the Communist Party’s Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957–59.

Friday, November 10: Karamay
12pm
Free with museum admission »
Archival footage and personal accounts from survivors and parents whose children were victims of the Karamay Friendship Theater fire of 1994 reveal the lingering emotional impact of a tragedy.

Saturday, November 11: Garden in Heaven
12pm
Free with museum admission »
After the date rape and murder of her daughter, a mourning mother struggles for justice in a society that denies legal recourse for sexual violence.

Saturday, November 11; Friday, December 1: In Search of Lin Zhao’s Soul
3:20pm; 12pm
Free with museum admission »
This film pieces together the life, path of resistance, and death of Lin Zhao, a fearless critic of the Communist Party during the Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957–59.

Friday, November 17; Saturday, November 25: Prisoners in Freedom City
12pm; 2:55pm
Free with museum admission »
Hu Jia and Zeng Jinyan are simultaneously the subjects and documentarians in this film that records their everyday experience while Hu was under house arrest from 2004 to 2008.

Saturday, November 18: Apuda
12pm
Free with museum admission »
An intimate portrait of the daily life of a man and his son caring for each other as they face struggles with illness and intellectual disability.

Friday, November 24; Friday, December 15: Silver City
12pm; 1:35pm
Free with museum admission »
Residents of a rural village along the West-East Gas Pipeline project are removed, by force and deceit, from the land that has sheltered them for generations.

Saturday, November 25: Sanlidong
12pm
Free with museum admission »
A poetic portrayal of the abandoned Sanlidong coal mine and the workers still living there fifty years after the boom of China’s socialist industrialization.

“Turn It On: China on Film, 2000-2017” is organized by the Guggenheim Museum in conjunction with Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World. Presented in collaboration with PEN America. Support is provided by The Hayden Family Foundation. A program of the Sackler Center for Arts Education.

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