The Arts – The People

Germany 1985, 16 mm, color, 270 minutes

In this four and a half hour documentary or filmic tavelogue, Ulrike Ottinger tries to impart new ways of seeing a foreign culture. "In my previous films I have dealt with the themes of exoticism, minorities and their differing role behaviour within their own culture. Now I am interested in expanding this theme, in getting to know a 'real exoticism' in a foreign land and in a different culture. I am attempting to conduct a visual discourse with my camera about exoticism as a question of point-of-view.

In making the film, I was influenced by Chinese naturepainting: by the use of the scroll, which not only demands a different method of painting, but a different way of viewing - rolling out the scroll, focusing in on details, wandering to and fro, viewing piecemeal. So if I was filming a market square, for example, I'd pan very slowly and steadily across the square, rather than trying to capture the image in toto.
– Ulrike Ottinger

Cast & Crew
Ulrike Ottinger
Assistant Cinematographer Bernd Balaschus
Sound Margit Eschenbach
Editor Dörte Völz
Editor Assistant Bettina Böhler
Translator Ting-I Li
Redaction Gerhard Honal (WDR), Rainer Lingenthal (SFB)
Executive Producer Hanna Rogge

October 1985, International Documentary Film Festival, Nyon

Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin 1986, Internationales Forum
14. Festival  International du Nouveau Cinéma, Montréal 1985
Festival International de Creteil 1986
15. Festival lnternacional de Cinema, Figueira da Foz 1986
11th Hongkong Intern. Film Festival 1987

Preis der Deutschen Filmkritik 1986
Prädikat: Besonders Wertvoll


Janet Bergstrom, excerpt from “The Theater of Everyday Life”, Camera Obscura No 18, Sept. 1988
The position of the camera throughout the film, whether still or moving, insists in a separation between the filmmaker and the sights that catch her eye, that she wants to collect and bring home. The filmmaker is only integrated into the narrative as separate: we never see her image, but her presence as a foreigner is acknowledged by people's attitude toward the camera (seemingly curious, interested) and by the explanations that are given, at several points, of things we see. The film pays as much attention to things with an undisclosed meaning as it does to a universalizing aspect - human gestures and facial expressions that are understood "directly," as if no translation is necessary. In other words, the film underscores our cultural difference as observers, yet links us to something we share with these people. The China that Ottinger shows us is an example in which social signs are not oppressive, especially because we see artistic expression in all facets of daily life. This is the principle of selection used in the film, whence its title: China: The Arts, Everyday Life. This is the privilege of the visitor: to be able to see another culture selectively, in this instance, as a "real" example of unoppressed Difference.

For further reading

Stations of the film

Beijing, February 1985, at the time of the Spring Festival, the ancient Chinese New Years celebration
In the streets around the Drummer's Gate
The Hutongs - houses with inner courtyard in older part of city
The Temple Fair and some of its attractions
The Forbidden City from the outside
The Summer Palace in winter
The Bird Market
“House of Hundred Wares” – the shopping district
The pharmacy "Common Charity"
A performance of the comedy "Happy New Year" in the Mingzu Juyan Theater
The Temple Fair
A closed company-dance function in the ballroom of the Beijing Hotel
The luxury taxi for foreigners and 'Chinese living abroad'
The city taxi - almost exclusively operated by women
“The Beijing Film Studio”
The film director Ling Zifeng

In Sichuan Province, March 1985
How the peasants from Golden Horse River are taking their wares to Chengdu for sale on the free market there.
“At the Mote Bridge” - a Sichuan opera, performed by the Wang Jiang Ensemble of Chengdu
An old Chinese tale of the trials and tribulations in the love between Giant Fish
(Xuan Deng-Ao) and Treasure Pearl (A Bauzhu), the children of two Mandarin families, friendly with each other for generations and residing at the Emperor's Court. / The evil concubine connives to implicate the innocent Treasure Pearl in an illicit affair. After being chased from her home by her father, Treasure Pearl's suicide is prevented by the "good Mandarin" and "marriage broker," and in the end the lovers as well as their families are happily reunited.
The Lantern Festival in Chengdu
Street of the 'Singing Sewing Machines'
The Bamboo Factory
The ancient provincial town Guanxian / The Tao Temple of Fulongguan (Canyon of the Sleeping Dragon) / The movable dikes / The Temple of Two Kings
Ascent to the Tao mountain monastery in the Qing Cheng Shan (Mountain of Green-Blue Attainment)

In Yunnan Province, March 1985
In the provincial capital Kunming: The East Temple Street / The Long Spring Street
The Yuantong Temple / The Bamboo Temple / The Golden Temple / and Daguan Park (Park of Great Vistas)
Shilin - the Stone Forest and its inhabitants, the Sani, a minority group
In Yunnan Province, March 1985
On the road to Lake Er Hai, near the Burmese-Tibetan border
The former capital Dali and the villages Xizhou and Zhoucheng, where the Bai minority lives
In the evening, on the village square of Zhoucheng, the traveling movie theater shows a film about the history of the Bai

Go back