The Year 2005 saw the beginning of the ground-breaking China Village Documentary Project, which, for the first time in China, opens a visual channel from the villages by putting video and still cameras in the hands of villagers across the nation. This project represents a new direction for documentary-making in China.? In its first phase, the selected topic for documentation was village self-governance:
1.What difference has twenty years of democracy in China¡¯s 700,000 villages made? The project was launched in Beijing in September 2005, as part of the public communication activities of the EU¡ªChina Training Programme on Village Governance, a joint project between the European Union and the Chinese Government and so far the largest international cooperation project on China¡¯s village-level democracy.
Headed by China¡¯s premier documentary filmmaker Mr. WU Wenguang and Mr. JIAN Yi, filmmaker and photographer with the EU program, a group of enthusiastic young people based in Wu Wenguang¡¯s Caochangdi (¡°Land of Grass¡±) Workstation in Beijing were the main executors of all these activities.
3.The project consists of two parts: villagers¡¯ documentary films (10 selected villagers) and villagers¡¯ documentary photos (100 selected villagers). The ten successful candidates were chosen from villagers from across the nation who answered a call for proposals and each of them was awarded a video camera, a tripod and ten blank video tapes. The villagers themselves then filmed scenes at home (in nine different provinces), crafting short projects that observed the politics of village life under post-Maoist reforms. The 100 villager photographers were chosen both from among applicants and through snowball sampling in 18 different provinces. The number of the photos returned to the project totals 6,000.
4.As of April 2006, the ten villagers¡¯ documentary films and Seen and Heard (a documentary of the project itself) have toured four American universities (New York University, Yale, Columbia and Notre Dame) and have been shown in Beijing on various occasions, in Hong Kong International Film Festival and in Visions du Reel, a film festival in Nyon, Switzerland. A selection of the best photos taken by the villagers was also shown in the US tour and in Beijing. It will also be exhibited at Berlin¡¯s House of Cultures in summer 2006.
Acclaimed as a ¡°quiet revolution,¡± China¡¯s village self-governance system, started in the early 1980s, can be considered as a significant step in the political history of China. In this new rural governance mechanism installed and protected by the Chinese law, the state power withdraws from the rural areas while the villagers are entitled to elect their own Village Committee and to manage and supervise village affairs in an autonomous and democratic manner. In China¡¯s official terms, village self-governance covers democratic election, democratic decision-making, democratic management, and democratic supervision.
Village self-governance is China¡¯s important step forward towards decentralization and democratization. It has changed the dynamics and public lives of China¡¯s rural communities, with an estimated total population of some 900 million people. This process, however, is rarely documented for various reasons. Even less so are the changes been viewed by the villagers themselves. This unprecedented project tries to address this need and has, for the very first time in the nation, successfully opened a new visual channel from the villages. It aims at empowering ordinary villagers through documentation through cameras, and seeing the changing realities from the perspective of the people whose lives are dependent on the villages, for better or worse. Instead of making any openly political statements, the films and photos of this project document the daily realities rural people face in China¡¯s new village governance mechanism.