Testimonial from Duncan M. Rogers
On March 24th I was sitting at my desk, working very hard on the pre-production of my next film project when I took a break to check my email. There I found a note from Rose Chen congratulating me on being one of three winners of the “short film festival”. I have written and directed three short films and couldn’t for the life of me remember what film or what festival! So, I poured through my applications and there it was, The Rose Group. I put two and two together and realized that I was being honored by the China- America Festival of Film and Culture and was being invited to Beijing to screen The Reader, my winning film. There was then the usual scramble for passports, visas, info about the location, childcare, etc. Then, faster than I could imagine it, I found myself sitting beside two remarkably talented and wonderful young women on an overnight flight to Asia. They were the other two winners and the three of us had been chosen for our various works to represent the United States in Beijing. WOW.
When we arrived we were met at the airport and swept away by director Lake Zhao and Shaw Wang from the China Association for International Friendly Contact to an amazing initiation to the way of dining in China. All of it magnificent. And for the next two days we were met in the morning and taken to all the imaginable (and unimaginable) places that Beijing has to offer. I took a voice recorder and kept a running commentary of our travels and when I listen to it, I am right back there.
The amazing, unspeakably beautiful morning we spent climbing the Great Wall under a late spring sun, cooled by an early spring wind. The trips to the Forbidden City, The Temple of Heaven, The Empress’ Summer Palace, Silk Alley, The open air Antique Market, The crazy wonderful variety show at a tea house that was reminiscent of our vaudeville of the 20’s, wandering the Hutongs alone an Irishman amidst a maze of alleys and aromas completely unfamiliar, dinners with some of the best food I have ever eaten in my life, and some of the best company. I have to say a few things about the other two winning filmmakers. They are lovely people, talented artists, generous souls, and wonderful travelling companions. I consider myself fortunate to have shared this experience with them.
On Wednesday night we were joined by Rose Chen, the President of the Rose Group and the person responsible for our trip and treated to a traditional Peking Duck dinner. One cannot imagine a kinder more generous hostess. The following day she led us to the Beijing Normal University where we got a tour of the entire College of Art and Communication and were allowed to sneak peeks at dance classes (both traditional and modern) the art studios where the juxtaposition of the classic ink and calligraphy that so many tourists are familiar with right up against some of the most open, raw, just plain MODERN and POST MODERN art that would not seem out of place at the most avant-garde galleries in NYC. It was at this moment that I really began to understand the struggle that Beijing lives with; trying to maintain its deep roots in tradition and history while charging ahead with new capitalist zeal and it is an amazing thing to be walking right through the middle of the growing pains of a great, global city. The remainder of the week had a bit more purpose as we approached our screening and the actual award ceremony, but we did get to spend most of Thursday wandering through the galleries surrounding the Hart center where our films were to be screened, The 798 District or the Da Shan Zi district. The remarkable thing is that this colony of art studios rose out of the leftovers of a major munitions complex that had been built by the East Germans; further evidence of the struggle to shake off the coils of a difficult history and reinvent itself. The examples of art were far reaching and, more often than not, really moving. With wonderful sculptures commenting on the ever increasing overcrowding of the country, and paintings confronting the realities of Tiananmen Square, 1989, and the joyful exhibit that was created entirely around sneakers!
So many forms of expression that, in the not too distant past, would have been buried were here and were flourishing. I felt very fortunate that my film was to be screened at a facility meant truly for the independent artists of Beijing.
Saturday afternoon. Time to get down to business. This is why we were there. At the screening the audience was mostly ex-pats and members of both organizations that had assembled the three of us there. Along with some young Chinese filmmakers who had made the trip all the way from Shanghai for the films. And the afternoon was wonderful. I have followed my film to many of the more than three dozen festivals it has appeared in and seen it so many times that I find it hard to watch with new eyes. But on this Saturday afternoon, as I sat in the dark and heard the familiar strains of the opening music I shuddered and realized that at that moment the film was entirely new. All the weeks long experience leading up to the screening had so influenced my personal aesthetic that I was able to see the film fresh. It was ten minutes of real happiness for me mixed with regret as it dawned on me that the screening was the culmination of the week and that I would be returning home again soon. After the films we met with many wonderful people who were so very kind with their critiques and compliments about the three films. There was none of the usual festival nonsense of trying to sell SELL SELL. It was a collection of people all interested in independent film, either the making of it or the view of it. All in support of The Rose Group and the work it is doing. All there for the Cookies and Coffee!
The next morning we headed to the airport to return home. There are so many people to thank. Rose Chen, Lake Zhao, Shaw Wang, Dinah Lin, Steve, the staff at the Chi-Lu Hotel and so many more especially the other winners Jennifer Tippins and Suzi Yoonessi. When I finally got home to my wife and son I realized that I could never fully share with them what I had seen, tasted, heard, smelled, wondered at, or was befuddled by. Sure there are photos, and gifts, and stories but this trip was impossible to fully describe. However it will always be a proud feature of my resume. Plus, now I will know where to take my wife and son when I go back!
With my greatest thanks
Duncan M. Rogers
Freshwater Films, LLC