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Together

在一起 (Zai Yiqi)

201184 mins|Director Zhao Liang 赵亮


intro

Together (Zai yiqi) (2011) is an ‘official’ documentary by Zhao Liang, one of China’s best-known independent documentary film-makers, ostensibly about the ‘making of’ Gu Changwei’s fiction film Love for Life (Zui ai) (2011), but really about the everyday realities of living with HIV/AIDS in China today. Accordingly, it combines location footage of the everyday working relationships and more person...

Together (Zai yiqi) (2011) is an ‘official’ documentary by Zhao Liang, one of China’s best-known independent documentary film-makers, ostensibly about the ‘making of’ Gu Changwei’s fiction film Love for Life (Zui ai) (2011), but really about the everyday realities of living with HIV/AIDS in China today. Accordingly, it combines location footage of the everyday working relationships and more personal and informal interactions between HIV-positive and HIV-negative members of the cast and crew of Love for Life with interview materials and personal testimony from several HIV-positive men and women from various social milieux and walks of life contacted on-line by the film-maker himself, through Internet chat-rooms for HIV-positive Chinese people. It also contains some intriguing footage of high-level official meetings held to discuss and if possible politically manage the filming of the documentary itself, and an appeal to the Chinese people for greater compassion towards HIV/AIDS victims and an end to social exclusion, stigmatisation and discrimination made by the actress Zhang Ziyi, speaking directly to camera.

Dr. Marta HANSON (Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore) and Dr. Michael CLARK (King's College London)

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screening notes

context

The idea of making a documentary about the 'making of' the film Love for Life, and of entrusting it to the well-known independent documentary-maker Zhao Liang, arose quite early in the development of the screenplay and scenario of Love for Life. However, the documentary soon took on a life of its own, largely as a result of the intervention of the Chinese Ministry of Health, whose financial and po...

The idea of making a documentary about the 'making of' the film Love for Life, and of entrusting it to the well-known independent documentary-maker Zhao Liang, arose quite early in the development of the screenplay and scenario of Love for Life. However, the documentary soon took on a life of its own, largely as a result of the intervention of the Chinese Ministry of Health, whose financial and political support helped transform it into something resembling a benign propaganda film to signal a new direction in government policy towards HIV/AIDS and, more importantly, the social inclusion of HIV/AIDS sufferers. The film remains an important document of the varied experiences of HIV-positive men and women in contemporary China, but this aspect is largely overshadowed by the political message about the need for greater openness and an end to the secrecy, stigmatisation and exclusion surrounding HIV/AIDS and HIV-positive people in everyday social interactions.

The Director Zhao Liang (b. Dandong, Liaoning Province, 1971), a graduate of the Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts in Shenyang who originally specialised in art photography, is one of the foremost practitioners of Chinese 'new documentary'. After making a number of highly evocative 'essay films' and observational documentaries in the late 1990s, of which the best known are Farewell to Yuanminyuang, about the destruction of an artists' colony near the remains of the Summer Palace in Beijing, and Paper Airplane (2001), about the lives of a group of young migrants in Beijing, many of whom have fallen into heroin addiction, Liang turned the spotlight on the administration of criminal justice in China in a series of documentaries beginning with Return to the Border (2005) and continuing with Crime and Punishment (2007) and the highly controversial Petition: The Court of the Complainants (2009). His most recent major work, Behemoth (2015), a 'guerilla documentary' about the ruthless exploitation of labour and the destruction of the grasslands of Inner Mongolia by open-cast coal mining, filmed in images at once beautiful and terrible, has attracted widespread critical acclaim in the West and has won a number of major awards in Western film festivals. Together (2010), a quasi-official documentary about the 'making of' the feature film Love for Life and the everyday realities of living with HIV/AIDS in China, is something of an exception to Liang's earlier work, in that it was part-financed and sponsored by the Chinese Ministry of Health and heavily promoted as part of a Government publicity campaign against discrimination and stigmatisation of HIV-positive people. However, with Behemoth (2015), Liang appears to have returned to his trademark practice of ethically grounded independent documentary film-making, but on a more epic scale.

Dr. Marta HANSON (Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore), Patrizia LIBERATI (Istituto di Cultura Italiana, Beijing) and Dr. Michael CLARK (King's College London)

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synopsis & relevance

Thanks to the particular history of the film's conception, development, making, editing and packaging for public consumption, Together is really several films rolled awkwardly into one - a participant-observer documentary about the spontaneous social interactions and personal commitments surrounding the making of a very unusual film drama, an investigative report into HIV/AIDS in China based on in...

Thanks to the particular history of the film's conception, development, making, editing and packaging for public consumption, Together is really several films rolled awkwardly into one - a participant-observer documentary about the spontaneous social interactions and personal commitments surrounding the making of a very unusual film drama, an investigative report into HIV/AIDS in China based on interview materials and personal testimonies, and an official public health information-cum-propaganda film intended to help change social attitudes and support new public policy initiatives. In each of these respects, it is of great interest for Chinese Medical Humanities, even if none of them is fully developed in the final version. Like Philadelphia or Dallas Buyers' Club in the American cinema of HIV/AIDS, Together is not just a mediation or reflection of the history of the medico-social reality it purports to document, but is itself an important part of that history.

Dr. Marta HANSON (Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore) and Dr. Michael CLARK (King's College London)

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cinematography

In contrast to the director's earlier participant-observer documentaries, shot largely with hand-held cameras without a script or story-board, Together combines some more spontaneous and improvised scenes with more conventionally filmed sequences, some of them scripted and stage-managed, and edited personal testimonies. For the first time, too, Zhao Liang employs both unknown, and mostly anonymous...

In contrast to the director's earlier participant-observer documentaries, shot largely with hand-held cameras without a script or story-board, Together combines some more spontaneous and improvised scenes with more conventionally filmed sequences, some of them scripted and stage-managed, and edited personal testimonies. For the first time, too, Zhao Liang employs both unknown, and mostly anonymous, non-professionals alongside very well-known professional actors, and this makes for several quite different and contrasting modes of addressing the audience, sometimes within the same scene. This sometimes awkward mix of styles reflects the film's dual origins firstly, as an independent documentary, and secondly, as a government-backed policy intitative deliberately intended to influence the hearts and minds of the Chinese mass audience. Together thus lacks the documentary 'purity' and fearless political independence of Zhao Liang's earlier films, but this hybrid character makes it arguably more interesting both for the history of Chinese documentary film-making and for understanding the role of the mass media in modern Chinese society and culture.

Dr. Marta HANSON (Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore) and Dr. Michael CLARK (King's College London)

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points for discussion

What range of HIV-positive people are represented in this documentary?
Who was willing to reveal his or her face and who was not? How do you explain this difference?
What kind of advantages does the documentary genre have for dealing with the many social, public health, and medical problems of HIV/AIDS?
What limitations do you think the director Zhao Liang had to deal with working with the Chinese...

  • What range of HIV-positive people are represented in this documentary?

  • Who was willing to reveal his or her face and who was not? How do you explain this difference?

  • What kind of advantages does the documentary genre have for dealing with the many social, public health, and medical problems of HIV/AIDS?

  • What limitations do you think the director Zhao Liang had to deal with working with the Chinese government and official censors?

  • In what ways and through which people does the documentary intersect with the making of the film Love for Life? How does it amplify the film’s message?

  • What is the documentary able to cover about HIV-positive people’s experiences, perceptions, and struggles that the feature film Love for Life and the novel Dream of Ding Village could not cover with their focus on people infected through blood banks in rural China?

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availability


external links


teaching and learning

Adams, Vincanne, Kathleen Erwin, and Phuoc V Le, ‘Public Health Works: Blood Donation in Urban China’, Social Science and Medicine (2006) 68 (3): 410-418.
Berry, Chris, Lu Xinyu, Lisa Rofel eds. The New Chinese Documentary Film Movement, Hong Kong University Press, 2011. Chapter 8, ‘Alternative Archive: China’s Independent Documentary Culture’, 135-154.
Li, Li 李力 ‘Alone Together: Contagion, Stigma...

Adams, Vincanne, Kathleen Erwin, and Phuoc V Le, ‘Public Health Works: Blood Donation in Urban China’, Social Science and Medicine (2006) 68 (3): 410-418.

Berry, Chris, Lu Xinyu, Lisa Rofel eds. The New Chinese Documentary Film Movement, Hong Kong University Press, 2011. Chapter 8, ‘Alternative Archive: China’s Independent Documentary Culture’, 135-154.

Li, Li 李力 ‘Alone Together: Contagion, Stigmatization and Utopia as Therapy in Zhao Liang’s AIDS Documentary Together’, ch. 8 in Chow, Howard Y.F. Discourses of Disease: Writing Illness, the Mind and Body in Modern China (Leiden: Brill, 2016): 231-51.

  • Guo Jinhua and Arthur Kleinman, ‘Stigma: HIV/AIDS, Mental Illness and China’s Nonpersons’, in Kleinman, Yau, Jun et al, Deep China: The Moral Life of the Person. What Anthropology and Psychiatry Tell Us about China Today (Berkeley and Los Angeles, Calif., and London; University of California Press, 2011), ‘Stigma related to HIV/AIDS’, pp. 248-256, and ‘Conclusion’, pp. 256-259

Edwards, Dan. ‘The Right to be Public and a Public with Rights’, section on ‘AIDS and Activism: The Central Plains and Care and Love’, in Dan Edwards, Independent Chinese Documentary: Alternative Visions, Alternative Publics (Edinburgh; Edinburgh University Press, 2013) [On other recent Chinese independent documentaries on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in central China]

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