And action! Peter Sallade on Beijing's 48 Hour Film Project

Travel | by Stephan Larose
Posted: August 13th, 2010 | Updated: May 6th, 2011 | Comments
On set; 48 Hour Film Project, Beijing On August 6, 2010, Beijing filmmakers screened their 48 Hour Film Project (the world's largest international film production festival) at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art. I recently caught up with Peter Sallade, one of the 48HFP's local producers to talk about the challenges of filmmaking in Beijing and the city's burgeoning arts scene--a must-see for visitors and art aficionados alike.»»» China Travel: What is your job, how did you get into it and what do you like most about it? Peter Sallade: As City Producer, to say the least—I prepare the paperwork for teams to register, oversee translation of instructions into Chinese, liaison with the central offices in the USA, book the screening venue, prepare the submitted movies for screening, arrange press participation and answer questions, and I guess that's just the tip of the iceberg! There are so many tasks to be done to assure the short movies get made, screened, judged, shipped, and awarded! I always wanted to do the 48 Hour Film Project since I came to Beijing, so I e-mailed their offices and said hey, how about I get one going? My Beijing International Movie Festival volunteer crew and I had a very successful initial run of the 48 Hour Film Project last year in 2009, so this year I felt confident enough to delegate the bulk of the management tasks to my partner Selim Oulmekki, and participate by making my own 48 Hour Film. China Travel: The 48 Hour Film Project. That's a pretty short time to produce a film. Is there any way to censor what people are doing for the project in Beijing? What impact does that have on the end result? [pullquote]One feels far more free here to just go out and make a movie. Local Chinese filmmakers have this freedom too... because the legal system as it interacts with acceptable social norms makes frivolous lawsuits difficult. So stacks of paperwork for every single shot aren't necessary here. -Peter Sallade.[/pullquote]Peter Sallade: There's no censorship involved, not unless someone's private parts are visible. I guess it's the editor's responsibility to put a digital mask on anything that could be considered sensitive content... like balls. Come on, these are 5-7 minute, largely experimental works of whimsy. Not much room for any serious stand on a provocative position. China Travel: The Chinese art scene seems vibrant, yet somewhat fraught. You have artists getting arrested, authors getting banned from traveling, yet a growing number of people exploring an increasing number of media yielding increasingly diverse art forms. What's your experience of that from where you've been standing? Peter Sallade: The amount of conflict is overstated. Mostly people complain about oppression in order to get their shoddy creations noticed. Any artist with a mind and a heart realizes that to make a difference to the general public they have to work within or around the restrictions placed upon them by society. It's too easy to blame the government for one's own shortcomings. In the USA an artist could easily blame Christianity, or Liberals, or any major social paradigm for causing their artwork to be censored. I just read an update last night on a Canadian artist's website about how the US DHS and Customs grilled him and his wife for hours and prevented him from entering the country to attend a convention where he was the guest of honor. He was treated like a terrorist suspect for no reason. The guy's work isn't even political. Even worse if it was political. Same shit everywhere. There are certainly at least a few Chinese artists who have what it takes to build their works of passion in such a way that they thrive above and beyond the limitations of their environment. Hopefully they'll be able to pass this spirit on to everyone they can. China Travel: Are there any challenges to filmmaking that are particular to Beijing or China? What are they and how do you overcome them? Peter Sallade: Not having enough money? Ha ha, I guess that's the situation with indie filmmakers most everywhere. And of course when a project does get funding, there are always strings attached. Many of the challenges filmmakers face in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand aren't present at all in China. One feels far more free here to just go out and make a movie. Local Chinese filmmakers have this freedom too, as long as they're shooting DV and don't make a huge noise in the press about it. It's because the legal system as it interacts with acceptable social norms makes frivolous lawsuits difficult. So stacks of paperwork for every single shot aren't necessary here. One of the teams participating in the Beijing chapter of the 48 Hour Film Project Instead we have different challenges, like lots of cast and crew constantly lying about their qualifications. Terrible actors with egos all puffed up from roles in TV commercials that merely required a foreign face. Editors from Beijing Film Academy who don't understand that you edit to make the scene shorter, not longer. Because it's easy to find a place in the growing industry here, one has to put up with the serious lack of standards. For example I rented a shotgun mic for the 48 Hours, and it just flat out didn't work. I wasted an hour going back to the store to swap it. Why would they rent out a mic that they know is broken? Confronting these mysteries is my great challenge. China Travel: Have any of the films screened in Beijing taken any famous Beijing landmarks and adopted a playful/unconventional approach to them? Did any of the pieces interact with Beijing's better known areas in an innovative way you thought was quite inventive or amusing? Peter Sallade: Last year we required all the filmmakers to include a symbol of Beijing, like a landmark, in their movie. This year we didn't, but many of the movies included some iconic sights anyway. Lots of great Hutong shots. The look and feel of the Beijing Hutong is very specific to the area. Even cities in nearby Hebei aren't quite the same, and it's very different from the coast. In 2009, about half the teams decided they'd include a shot of someone running past Tiananmen with a musical soundtrack. It was funny to see the same kind of shot in so many movies! Also we got nice panoramic views of the "Big Egg" (National Center for Performing Arts), the Water Cube (Olympic Aquatic Area), and of course The Bird's Nest (National Olympic Stadium) in more than a few of the short movies. Some movies were shot at clubs and bars that were recognizable to the local audience. And the Marriott Northeast Hotel where my movie takes place might be known to anyone who's stayed in that area, by the US Embassy and "Women's Street." China Travel: If you had a friend who was really interested in the Beijing art scene, what would you recommend they see and do? Anything "off the beaten path?" Peter Sallade: Go rent a room in Song Zhuang on the outskirts of the city. That area boasts an artists' community of talent from all over China and the world. Thousands of artists all in close proximity. With supply stores and galleries aplenty. Live there at least a few months and join several collectives to create collaborative works in multiple mediums. Good stuff. China Travel: What about for someone on a shorter timeline, say just a day trip? Whenever I go to Song Zhuang, it's either for a specific event, a meeting, or just to show some friends from abroad, in which case I stop in the visitors' center, grab a gallery map, and start wandering around. It's a large community with a good walk of 3, 5, even 10km between large galleries with tons of private, yet friendly and open studios in between. There are event posters all over the place. The best way to get there is to take the 938 bus to Xiao Pu (小堡) (pronounced pu4, not Bao, actually pronounced by locals more like: "Puaeer"). It's impossible to wander there without bumping into some cool art; and it's always changing. China Travel: Where we can view 48 Hour Film Project films online? What are some of your favorite films and why? Peter Sallade: is supposed to host all the movies, but I can't find them on there. I hope Mark and Christina and Liz and Ben will get to adding the ones from Beijing! Otherwise, it's a safe bet that all the filmmaking teams have been uploading their work to, or A search for the appropriate movie title would bring it up. China Travel: Are there any other cool Chinese festivals you are looking forward to this year? Peter Sallade: My favorite festival in Beijing is the Beijing International Movie Festival. Many weird and wonderful filmmakers from around the world come to present their works, and their crazy Chinese counterparts hit them with great questions! I also try and make it to an outdoor music festival every year, but there are so many now it's confusing which is which. I like New Pants. I'll go see the one with them playing. There is also another major annual event in November called Greening The Beige. It is Beijing's Environmental Arts Festival, now in its fourth year. All kinds of artists, Chinese and International, perform, play, create, and do everything they can to celebrate those who are saving the world, and to get more people active in environmental groups. It's not just a fun time for me, but so crucial to spread this message of art, fun, and reducing pollution in all of China! Please check out the website at Go go go support the greening! Photos courtesy of Peter Sallade and the 48 Hour Film Project. Beijing Guide
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