Recent films by Chinese documentary makers and films by versatile artist Ai Weiwei will be screened during the 41st edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam. The films highlight hidden aspects of Chinese society in an intimate and surprising way. These films and Ai’s work will be shown in Hidden Histories, a themed program of the IFFR main Signals section.

Signals: Hidden Histories

What the films in Hidden Histories have in common is that their makers focus on hidden aspects of Chinese society such as for example poverty, corruption or misrule. The ‘hidden’ aspect also applies to the films themselves: screenings and distribution are often thwarted. In spite of this, the makers have managed to create convincing, substantively strong and visually impressive work on minimal budgets.

As part of Hidden Histories, the festival will also be showing works of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei: six long films which he refers himself to as ‘social documentaries’ and four documentary art videos. There is a remarkable difference between Ai’s sometimes highly conceptual art videos and his social documentaries. For the latter, he acts – before and behind the camera – as a committed research journalist, persistent to bring injustice in the open. Hidden Histories is being compiled by IFFR programmers Gertjan Zuilhof and Gerwin Tamsma.

Documentaries in Hidden Histories

Hidden Histories will include the film APUDA by He Yuan. This film won the main prize at Yunfest in China and its only other prior screening was during the Vancouver film festival in Canada. APUDA provides a sober portrayal of the daily life of a carpenter and his dying father.

Hidden Histories will also be showing BACHELOR MOUNTAIN, the new documentary by Yu Guangyi and the sequel to his SURVIVAL SONG, which was screened at IFFR 2009. In BACHELOR MOUNTAIN, Yu returns to the barren north of China and provides an intimate portrait of the uneasy friendship between a lumberjack and the women he has taken a shine to.

The documentary SHATTERED is filmmaker Xu Tong’s third work. In 2010 and 2011, the IFFR screened his films WHEAT HARVEST and FORTUNE TELLER. In SHATTERED, socially committed Xu once again films the daily lives of those on society’s margins in a very straightforward manner. This time around he follows with his camera a retired railway worker and the former’s daughter, who is also active in the underworld.

The complete line up of Hidden Histories will be available online at as of Thursday 19 January 2012.

About Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei, who was born in 1957, is a conceptual artist, political activist and philosopher. He is a multifaceted artist who also engages in architecture, photography and film. He is also known for his criticism of the social and cultural changes in his country, and this has resulted in his being hampered in many ways by the Chinese authorities. Spring 2011, Ai Weiwei was imprisoned for 81 days. He was released after being issued a hefty fine for alleged back taxes. Recently Ai paid the bond raised by supporters from China and abroad.

Ai grew up in Sianking in the northwest of China. Because his father – a famous writer, painter and poet – was banished to a labour camp twice during the 1950s and 1960s, the family lived in poverty. In 1975 they moved to Beijing. Ai enrolled at the film academy and was a classmate of, among others, Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige. After living in New York for 12 years, Ai returned to Beijing. In 1999, he founded the gallery Chinese Art Archive & Warehouse in the south of the city with Dutch artist and collector Hans van Dijk and the Flemish art collector Frank Uytterhaegen. From the mid-1990s onwards, Ai often exhibited his large-scale installations in and outside China, founded a firm of architects, wrote books on the new generation of artists in China and collaborated on the design for the Olympic stadium (the bird’s nest) in Peking. At the moment, Ai is China’s most famous artist and this year he topped the magazine ArtReview’s ‘Power 100 List’.

The International Film Festival Rotterdam has a long tradition of screening independently made feature films, shorts and documentaries from China. In recent years, some of these films came about thanks to contributions from the Hubert Bals Fund, including, for example, the epic TIE XI QU: WEST OF THE TRACKS by Wang Bing. In 2012, the IFFR intends to continue on this course and will select films from China for several parts of the programme. On Thursday 19 January 2012, the full festival programme will be made available as an insert in the Volkskrant newspaper and online at: The 41st edition of the festival is set to take place from 25 January – 5 February 2012.

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