AI WEIWEI VIDEO INSTALLATION AT TATE MODERN

It was really exciting to see my 2015 short film on Chinese artist Ai Weiwei for Tate and the Guardian showing as a double screen video installation at Tate Modern. The film is one of three artist profiles displayed as part of the Living Cities exhibition in the new switch house wing. It was great to see so much that didn't make it into the original film running on the second screen, playfully and elegantly combined by the producers at Tate. 

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The film has been on show since the new wing opened last summer, and may not be up for very much longer, so those who are heading to the Tate, please go and have a look. Some nice views of London (and of course other people's living rooms...) from the observation deck too.

 

 

 

 

 

A Chat with Movidiam

I talked with Movidiam, a professinal network and project managament platform for filmmakers, about my work and career trajectory. The interview can be read here.

 Shooting in Serbia, January 2017 (Alice Aedy)

Shooting in Serbia, January 2017 (Alice Aedy)

MEETING CAO FEI, AN ARTIST OF HER TIME

I've been a big fan of Cao Fei's work for a long time: she has a rare gift for mixing irreverent humour with genuine poetry and, somehow, a real sense of urgency. Cao has tackled some of the same issues that have occupied journalists in China for the last couple of decades - globalisation, social and cultural upheaval, the implications of the country's economic growth and the aspirations of young people - and in some ways has approached these as a documentarian would. But the video work she creates surprises: instead of focusing on the woes of the the migrant factory workers in her native Guangzhou, she asks them to act out their fantasies; instead of describing the disillusionment of the urban middle class, she interprets their reality as a zombie movie. The absurdity of her choices reflects the absurdity of reality. 

So I was excited to shoot this portrait of her for Bloomberg's Brilliant Ideas series:

 

It's often disappointing to meet people who you have known through their creative work. But not so with Cao Fei, at least in part because, in person, she is so much like her work - charming, thoughtful but with a sting of cynicism to her humour. She works, rather surreally, in a beautiful, abandoned soviet-era cinema in a fading part of Beijing that bears a striking resemblance to Pyongyang, and doesn't look like it will be around much longer. It's retro in a way that is both amusing and melancholic. 

A highlight was taking a stroll with her around a large wholesale market nearby that has been slated for demolition. On the face of it, It's a place with very little cultural value - a cluster of warehouses full of people selling cheap, plastic, everyday essentials manufactured by the kind of factory labourers that Cao has turned her own eye on. As we walked around, she snapped piles of mannequins piled like corpses in empty shops and walls sprayed bluntly with the character for 'destroy' so familiar to city residents. As she shopped for stationary and trinkets for her children in stalls soon to be emptied, dolls in plastic bags became props for horror B movies while stacks of coloured stickers became dynamic sculptures, soon to appear on her Instagram account. Through her inquisitive eye, this place, which was clearly never meant to last forever, became resonant with meaning, and somehow representative of the confluence of so many things that make up China today. Suddenly it became a nostalgic place. But the fact that it would be torn down and replaced by a newer China was totally appropriate and, for whatever reason, it made Cao Fei smile. 

 

MEKONG: A RIVER RISING PICKS UP ONE WORLD MEDIA AWARD. BUT IN A CHANGING INTERNET, CAN THERE BE MANY MORE PROJECTS LIKE IT?

Last night, Mekong: A River Rising, an interactive documentary I shot for the Guardian, picked up an award for digital media at the One World Media Awards in London. Lindsay Poulton, the project's executive producer, was there to accept it and snapped a pic:

It's the second award for the project. Earlier in the year it won a Webby Award for best use of video or moving image online. 

Ahead of the crucial 2015 climate change talks in Paris, environmental correspondent John Vidal and I travelled through the Mekong countries of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, meeting people affected by climate change and witnessing the ecological havoc created by giant dams, deforestation, coastal erosion and fast-growing cities. The result, crafted by Lindsay and the team in London, is an immersive experience that incorporates video, photography, graphics and text in a widescreen desktop version and, controversially, a 9:16 vertical video version for mobile. At the time I was impressed by the ambition of the project, and (pleasantly) surprised by the significant resources being put towards it. 

This year, however, we have seen many of the major online media tightening their belts or restructuring their video departments as they scramble to find a working model for an internet dominated by Google and Facebook. Increasingly they are producing video content aimed principally at Facebook, despite the total lack of profit for themselves. Facebook and Google meanwhile are raking in the vast majority of online advertising revenue. If everyone is to consume all their video via these platforms, that doesn't leave much space, or budget, for innovative immersive projects like this, in which a whole platform is created to tell a story in a unique way. There is a great deal of concern across the industry about what the dominance of the internet giants will mean for media like the Guardian.

Financial concerns aside, for me, consuming video on Facebook is like catching raindrops in your mouth - content pours down on you, and you consume fragments of meaning in an almost arbitrary way. The sustenance of each lasts a second and you move on to the next. I hope awards for pieces like this encourage media to keep pushing for ambitious and innovative projects, and show that the internet is a place for long as well as short-form visual journalism.

CHAT WITH THE MULTIMEDIA WEEK PODCAST

I joined multimedia journalist and educator DJ Clark on the Multimedia Week podcast to chat about making the sometimes-precarious transition from Reuters to working independently, my process, gear and more. The podcast can be heard here.

 

WHY DO SO MANY CHINESE STUDENTS WANT TO STUDY IN THE U.S.?

I shot the China video component for this insightful and sensitive piece by Te-Ping Chen for the Wall Street Journal on why so many Chinese students are choosing to study in the US. It's an interesting read for anyone who wants to understand the aspirations of some of the Chinese students pouring into western universities, especially when there is an increasing stereotype of Chinese students as rich and spoilt. We had a fun day or so with student Fan Yue in Yangzhou, a small (by Chinese standards) city in eastern China, as she prepared to leave. It was interesting, and often entertaining, to hear the expectations and apprehensions that middle class family had about a country that is both revered and resented in China for its clout and cultural ubiquity. Fan Yue was fed up with the Chinese education system and dazzled by the freedoms her US counterparts seemed to enjoy, but worried about fast food and fitting in. In the US she seems to have found some of the freedom, but was sorely disappointed that she indeed struggled to make friends with local students. In some ways she was even discouraged from integrating - she was, for example, placed in a dormitory with only Chinese students, despite her express wishes to share with others. This strikes me as pretty counterproductive when surely part of the benefit of having international students is to increase mutual understanding. 

MEKONG: A RIVER RISING NOMINATED FOR WEBBY AND ONE WORLD MEDIA AWARDs 2016

Mekong: A River Rising, a special Guardian interactive documentary for which I produced the video, has been longlisted for a Digital Media Award in the One World Media Awards 2016 and a Webby Award for Website Features and Design / Best Use of Video or Moving Image. Ahead of the crucial 2015 climate change talks in Paris, environmental correspondent John Vidal and I travelled through the Mekong countries of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, meeting people affected by climate change and witnessing the ecological havoc created by giant dams, deforestation, coastal erosion and fast-growing cities. The result, crafted by executive producer Lindsay Poulton, is an immersive experience that intertwines video, photography, graphics and text in a widescreen desktop version and, controversially, a 9:16 vertical video version for mobile. As more viewers take to handheld devices as their main platform to consume content, it was clear from the outset that the project was was going to be a 'mobile first' experience. That meant trying to think about every frame in both landscape and portrait, which believe me is not very easy. You can decide for yourself on its success, and indeed whether vertical is the future or just a bump on the winding road (or perhaps a mind-boggling network of crisscrossing paths?) to online video nirvana. You can also vote for the Webby if you like. No pressure.  

 Laos, 2015

Laos, 2015

The End of the Chinese Miracle at the Asia Society NYC / News from Hunan

The Asia Society and ChinaFile will be showing an extended version of The End of the Chinese Miracle, a film I shot for the Financial Times, as part of a panel discussion on that subject in NYC this April 20th. Panelists will include Financial Times Asia Editor Jamil Anderlini (who originally conceived and then voiced the piece); former Washington and Beijing Bureau Chief Richard McGregor; Beijing Economics Correspondent Yuan Yang; and financier, philanthropist, and frequent Financial Times columnist George Soros. They will be moderated by Arthur Ross Director of the Asia Society Center on U.S.-China Relations Orville Schell. They'll discuss the changes taking place in the Chinese economy and take a look at the country's prospects in the coming years. Friends in NYC who want to hear what's going down in China from some people who should know may want to check it out. More info here.

Below is a pic of the star, the wonderful Yang Zhongyou, a laid-off migrant worker who was brave and generous enough to let me follow him all the way from the boomtown of Shenzhen to his tiny village in the mountains of Hunan. After shooting the video last November, I've spoken to him a few times (he was pretty happy with the result, once I had given him a rough translated synopsis of the English). He has now moved back to his village permanently, and is still looking for work. Meanwhile, his wife (10 years his junior) has left him to care for his grandson, elderly father and disabled uncle alone. Without much land left to farm and with few prospects of new work in his late 40s, it's hard to be very optimistic. Parts of the Chinese countryside have become more dynamic in recent years as factories have moved inland in search of cheaper labour and returning workers have entered the private sector, but it is not clear what will become of many people like him who return to remote areas with little capital to start new ventures. Of the many emotions that Yang expressed during my time with him, a major one was disappointment: how is it that after working for one company for over a decade, he could be laid off suddenly with little compensation? And how is it that after working over 25 years, he is back in the same farmhouse in his village with little more than what he started with? We hear many rags-to-riches China stories, but it's important to recognise that for many the Chinese Dream has been just that - more of a dream than a reality. 

Yang Zhongyou, Hunan Province, Nov 2015

Welcome to my blog

Today I launch my new website. It's principally a place for me to show work I've produced in recent years. During my half decade as a video journalist for Reuters, and in the months since I went independent, I've reported on extremes of tragedy, bravery, beauty and humour, in China, other Asian countries including North Korea, and further afield. It is one of my regrets that I didn't create a space in which to reflect more personally on these experiences, to tell the story behind the story, or describe the moments or characters that so often reveal more about a place or a situation than headlines. That's what I'll try to do on this blog.

 Pyongyang, 2013

Pyongyang, 2013