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From Our Eyes: Community Media and Visual Ethnography in China

This event showcases two recent documentary films produced through community media and participatory video training projects organized by From Our Eyes, a cultural heritage and media NGO based in Kunming, Yunnan Province. The film screenings, including a collaboratively produced short by art students and a Baiku Yao filmmaker and a feature-length documentary by first-time a Tibetan filmmaker from Sichuan Province, will be followed by discussion with two co-directors of From Our Eyes and an anthropologist researching rural media in ethnic minority China.

April 5, 2016 4:00pm to 7:00pm

Featured Films:

Gòng Wǎi

2015/Color/HD/24 min.
Directed by Long Sijing, Lu Jinggan, and Zhang Zhiyi
Filmed in Nandan County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region

“Gong Wai” means “husband and wife” in the local Yao language spoken around Nandan county, Guangxi. This short documentary depicts the quiet, everyday lives of a Baiku Yao couple who allowed the filmmaking team, composed of two non-Yao students from the Yunnan Arts Institute and a Baiku Yao filmmaker/translator, to film them over in March 2015 during a collaborative documentary project sponsored by the local Baiku Yao Film Group and From Our Eyes. The language barrier between the couple and the arts students, who did not speak or understand Yao language, is recorded in the offhand comments between the husband and wife as they go about their daily tasks. Their conversations were only translated during the editing process, exposing the underbelly of the documentary filmmaking process. As such, this film reflects upon the contingencies of power, intelligibility, and cultural difference in ethnic minority regions of China today.


2014/Color/DV/66 min.
Directed by Peng Xiaoli
Filmed in Aba Prefecture, Sichuan Province

This documentary, by first-time Tibetan filmmaker Peng Xiaoli, captures the excitement, conviviality, and social drama of the annual Lunar New Year festival, known in the local Jiarong Tibetan language as sedamailong. Located in a multi-ethnic region marked by the crossing of six rivers, imposing mountain ranges, and a long history of migration and cultural exchange, Jiaorong Tibetan identity has emerged out of the confluence of diverse cultural customs and practices. Peng’s film captures the physical and cultural exuberance of the festival and the centrality of animal husbandry and agricultural for the local community. The main activity of the festival is yak-sheering, a collective effort involving extended family members who spend the festivals together at a corral at 4000 meters wrangling, sheering, marking, vaccinating, and feeding the yak herd. Focusing on her own family members and neighbors, this film offers an uniquely intimate and vibrantly engaged portrayal of cultural life at the frontiers of contemporary Tibetan identity and community.

Event Participants:

CHIO Jenny is a cultural anthropologist and ethnographic filmmaker. She is an assistant professor of Anthropology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Her current research examines vernacular media practices, including amateur and semi-professional videography and documentary filmmaking, in rural, ethnic minority communities in Guizhou, Yunnan, Guangxi, and Qinghai. She has also conducted extensive fieldwork on tourism, ethnicity, and rural development in China, published in her book A Landscape of Travel: The Work of Tourism in Rural Ethnic China (U Washington Press, 2014) and her film, 农家乐Peasant Family Happiness (Berkeley Media, 2013).

CHEN Xueli is a visual anthropologist and ethnographic filmmaker. He is Associate Professor of Ethnology and Director of the Visual Anthropology Laboratory at Yunnan University, in Kunming, China. He is also one of the founding board members for From Our Eyes(乡村之眼乡土文化研究中心) and has worked with numerous participatory media projects in rural ethnic minority communities since the 1990s. His films have been screened in China and Europe, and his most recently published book isEthnography of Ethnographic Films: Reviewing No More Bound Feet and The Grandma with Bound Feet in My Hometown(Minzu Press, 2015).

LI Xin completed graduate studies in visual anthropology at Yunnan University and teaches Media Arts at the Yunnan Arts Institute, in Kunming, China. His films have shown at festivals in Europe and China, and he has participated in invited workshops, residencies and fellowships in Europe, Australia, and Southeast Asia. As a one of the co-founders of From Our Eyes (乡村之眼乡土文化研究中心), he has worked with and trained first-time filmmakers from rural Yunnan, Qinghai, Sichuan, and Guangxi in 2009. His latest documentary film, Badi Dialogues, is based on his experiences filming in a Baiku Yao village in Nandan county, Guangxi, in March 2015. 

Please RSVP at least one week before the event.

This event is co-sponsored by USC Center for Visual Anthropology and USC Department of Anthropology. Video stills provided courtesy of the filmmakers and From Our Eyes.