Wang Bing © Wang Bing, 15 Hours

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Who is Wang Bing?

Chronicler of contemporary China

On 18 December, the online film magazine Sabzian and Bozar welcomes the Chinese filmmaker Wang Bing. He will present his ‘State of Cinema’: his vision of what cinema does, can and should mean today. But who is Wang Bing? Let’s get to know him better.

9-hour debut

Wang Bing was born in 1967 in Xi’an in the Chinese province of Shaanxi. He studied photography and cinematography, and begun his career as an independent filmmaker in 1999. He debuted with a film that lasted over six hours. The documentary West of the Tracks (Tiexi qu) was an instant international success.

“I filmed the life of the working class, their relation to society, and the traces their lives had left behind. If you see my film together with things from the last few decades, you can see what people have been doing over the decades in this country, what they have been dreaming of, and if their dreams have come true. This is a very important issue, because it tells us how we might live in the future.”
- Wang Bing

Chinese society as you’ve never seen it before

Wang Bing’s work is deeply rooted in China’s social and cultural history. His films tend to be about remote and marginalised regions, neglected by the mainstream. Despite the harsh realism of the subjects, Wang handles the camera in such a sober way that he transforms observation into an art form. Because Wang does not ask for subsidies or permits, and works with only a minimal crew and a camera, he manages to avoid being silenced and to keep his freedom.

 Still from 15 hours, courtesy to Wang Bing.
Still from 15 hours, courtesy to Wang Bing.

More than film

Wang Bing doesn’t let himself be labelled easily. Besides being a director of both documentaries and fiction films, he’s also a photographer and creates installations. As the title suggests, the installation 15 Hours shows a 15-hour shot of a clothes factory in China, in which no fewer than 300,000 labourers appear on screen. The result is a radical, almost hypnotising meditation on the contemporary significance of working conditions in China.

"I think that the most interesting thing to do in films is not to create a story — in any case, I’m not the kind of director who sets out to create one. I prefer to look at people. If you look at an interesting person for a while, then you will realize that in that person’s life there is a very interesting story."
- Wang Bing

Retrospective on the documenta

At the documenta 14 – one of the largest art exhibitions in the world – Wang Bing was invited to present 15 Hours in premiere. As the only Chinese artist there, he also received a retrospective with archive images in Gloria Kino, the arthouse cinema in Kassel (Germany).

Pure, poetic and honest

For those who have never seen a Wang Bing film, we recommend Three Sisters. This documentary tells the story of three sisters living in a village in Yunnan province. The impoverished sisters have nothing but each other. While life is hard, it is free and high-spirited. The film is typical of Wang’s style: pure, without any external modification, an intense, heartbreaking no-frills portrait.

Hungry for more? On Sabzian’s website you can find everything to help you immerse yourself in the universe of Wang Bing.