HKIFF: André’s Eyes, Li Wen at East Lake, The Academy of the Muses, & The Name of the Whale



Realising the fictional; or fictionalising the real

This cluster of films significantly tugs at the fence that separates documentary and fiction as a way to re/present stories, experiences, and perspectives. Such stories, experiences, and perspectives range from the very personal, even familial, to the very public and sociopolitical. This group of films also varies in the degree to which each one blends documentary and fiction elements, in terms of working with the actual people to represent events that have happened to them; taking liberally, equally, from both actual life and the invented and meshing them to emerge with an altogether different fictionalised real or realised fiction; capturing the informal, eclectic ‘look’ of a documentary while presenting a largely fictional story; or a combination thereof. However each film may tug at this divide, collectively they constitute active essayistic collaborations between filmmakers and the (social) actors on the nature of experience, of the desire to share it, and of film’s distinct role in audiovisualising both experience and desire.

It goes without saying that collectively they also reject easy categorisation. In the words of José Luis Guerín:

Documental no es un género; documental es un cajón de sastre dónde va aparar
todo lo más o menos inclasificable desde los criterios de consumo.
‘Documentary is not a genre; documentary is a tailor’s box in which all that is
more or less unclassifiable is thrown according to the criteria of its consumption.’

That all of these films were released in the same year of 2015 despite being from disparate localities (Portugal, China, Spain, Japan) is perhaps a testament to how important this ‘tailor’s box’ is for both filmmakers and spectators, following Guerín’s statement above. For these particular films call for a more nuanced, questioning mode of spectatorship, which then challenges sedimented ideas of how films operate.

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About Author

Film lecturer at CSULB. Transnational, multilingual, migratory cinephilia.