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8 Questions with the Creators of "Down: Indie Rock in the PRC"

In July 2007, Professor Andrew Field, a respected China historian and author, began work on his debut film Down: Indie Rock in the PRC. Working at his own pace and with no budget, Field chronicled the contemporary Beijing rock scene, not only following bands like [Subs](http://site.douban.com/subs), [Carsick Cars](http://site.douban.com/carsickcars) and [PK 1.4.](http://site.douban.com/pk14), but also interviewing integral peripheral players in the scene like [Tag Team Records’ Matt Kagler](http://www.chinamusicradar.com/?p=2598), [Maybe Mars](http://www.maybemars.com)’ Michael Pettis and [Outdustry](http://www.outdustry.com)’s Ed Peto. Aside from his predominant focus on Beijing, Field traveled through China with Wuhan-via-Beijing hardcore superstars Subs, joining them as they opened for Chinese rock legend [Cui Jian](http://www.cuijian.com/ENGLISH/Pages/main_interface.html), and came to Shanghai for the 2007 “Rockit Festival” at [Dino Beach](http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/shanghai/listings/sports/water-activities/has/dino-water-park/). Fast forward a couple of years, and Field hooked up with Shanghai-based film editor Jud Willmont, to piece together a feature-length documentary from some 40 hours of raw footage. Finally, after nearly four years, Down: Indie Rock in the PRC is set for release, and on [Saturday, April 9th](http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/shanghai/events/84346/), Field and Willmont will screen their film for the first time in public at [Mao Livehouse](http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/shanghai/listings/nightlife/live_music/has/mao-live-shanghai/). In anticipation of the pending release, Field and Willmont sat with City Weekend for another one of those crafty “8 Questions with . . .” City Weekend: Why did you decided to make Down? How did you initially envision it?
Andrew Field: I originally came up with the concept of making a film about the rock scene in China in the fall of 2006 during a visit to Beijing. One evening during that trip, the 13-year old son of a colleague of mine dragged us to a rock club called [Yugong Yishan](http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/beijing/listings/nightlife/live_music/has/yugong-yishan/) where his teacher Jaime Welton was performing with an AC-DC cover band. Before that act, we saw Kaiser Kuo's band [Spring and Autumn](http://site.douban.com/chunqiu/) (春秋) perform. I had my portable camcorder with me so I took the opportunity to film some of both bands' performances. You can watch these on my [YouTube site](www.youtube.com/andrewfield), along with an interview I did on the spot with Kaiser. There was so much energy in that rock club that I felt I wanted to do more to document that scene. After I returned to UNSW in Sydney where I was teaching Chinese history, I got a job offer to run the Dartmouth program for a semester in the fall of 2007. I was also offered a teaching gig for the CET program in Beijing that summer. I decided that while I was in Beijing for six months, I'd devote some of that time to filming the rock scene with the idea of making a documentary film about it. I started filming the following June (2007), and the first thing I shot was the “Rockit Festival in Shanghai,” where over 70 bands were performing from all over China. It was a great opportunity for me to see the wide range of styles of independent rock music in the country. After that I went up to Beijing where I spent the next several months filming in rock clubs and at rock concerts. I always had it in mind to pull together the footage and cut it into a film. But I didn't know exactly how to do that. I had some limited experience making films on my own, some of which were quite long. But these were along the lines of home-made films for my university students and friends, and I wanted to take this project more seriously and get the results out to a wider audience. By this time I had given up my post at UNSW, for better or worse, and dedicated myself to living in China permanently. After heading down to Shanghai in early 2008 to reunite with my own family, I met up with Jud Willmont, an old acquaintance from our early days in Shanghai in the late 1990s, and over the subject of film making we forged a friendship. That eventually turned into a film making partnership, but I will hand that part of the story over to Jud... Jud, how did you become involved in the project?
Jud Willmont: Andrew and I had been friends since 1997. We met in Shanghai while we were both living here. Then later he moved to Australia, but he kept coming back for visits and we stayed in touch; I went to see a film of his on Shanghai night life at the old Arch - probably in 2003. When he finally moved back to Shanghai in 2008 we started spending a lot of time together and that’s when he told me about the 40 plus hours of footage he shot in Beijing over the previous summer. I was working on a documentary of my own at the time and didn’t see myself getting involved at all. Long story short, I think he may have conned me into this thing - but it’s all been good fun and certainly worth the effort. What were some of the challenges you encountered in the filming stage?
AF: I would say the biggest challenge was getting my head around the rock scene. I think that many filmmakers research their subjects intensely and then begin filming, after forming a concept for a storyline. For me, the filming was the research. Every time I went out to clubs and concerts I was discovering great new bands. Nobody gave me any problems with the filming itself, in fact a lot of people were filming and photographing the scene from very close quarters, so I didn't really stand out (hard to imagine that happening in America, and maybe that will change here too in the future). I was able to get right up on stage with a lot of the bands, and sometimes even behind the stage. So I was able to capture the energy of the bands and their audience from their own perspective. I'd say the biggest challenge there was maintaining the energy to do all that filming, since I did it all myself. Sometimes I'd be out there for hours filming different bands. I was also photographing the bands, so I was doing double duty as a cinematographer and photographer of the scene. The infernal energy of the rock scene helped me to maintain my energy. Beer helped too. Jud, what was it like editing footage that was mostly shot before you hopped on board?
JW: I’ve sort of developed a systematic approach towards editing documentary films and that has been to let the footage tell the story. It’s a bit slow and methodical, but it means that as I become familiar with the material, I begin to uncover the various stories that exist. Eventually there are so many stories you can’t tell them all, but I feel that only after knowing clearly what all those stories are, am I in a position to know which ones work in the movie and which ones don’t. So in this way, I’ve approached the editing of Andy’s film in very much the same way as I have approached the editing of my previous films. In your film, you highlight quite a few bands. What bands stand out to you as the most compelling and talented bands in China today?
AF: Since I stopped filming I haven't devoted as many nights to seeing rock bands as I'd like to. Not to mention that filming on stage for several months blew out my ears. So I still stand by the bands that Jud and I eventually chose to feature in our film. SUBS is still going strong and is one of the most amazing live acts you will see anywhere in the world. You may not appreciate their hardcore style of music, but the raw energy they churn up on stage is unbelievable, and Kang Mao really knows how to put on a performance and involve the audience in her own homegrown style of youthful angst. Growing up in Boston in the 1980s, I was a big fan of punk and hardcore music, though too young to go to concerts--except I did see the Clash when I was 14, and that blew out my ears too. So I really appreciate that style of music. I also dig Lonely China Day's ethereal style, though I haven't seen them perform since I did the filming. They are definitely one of the best bands to listen to for their recordings as well. I saw PK-14 last year in Shanghai and they were great as always. There was also a very good band at the same concert called AV-Okubo, who like SUBS came from Wuhan--amazing how much great rock that city has produced. Hedgehog is still the cutest band in China but with strong undercurrents of dissonance and discontent. JW: I have learned a great deal about the rock scene from having worked on this film project, but I am in no way an expert on the rock scene in China. I think if you watch our film you might get the sense that SUBS, PK14 and Carsick Cars are the most compelling and talented bands. And while I think SUBS are still compelling and unique as well as all the other bands we feature in the film, there are so many new bands rapidly emerging on the scene, I really have no idea. In Down, you begin with the arrival of the CPCC, quickly segueing into Cui Jian, the god father of Chinese rock. How do you see the evolution of rock in China from Cui Jian to present? Where do you see rock music and culture in China going in the future?
AF: I think Down will stand the test of time as an ethnographic portrayal of the Chinese rock scene. It's not much of a history either. Our intro to the history of the rock scene in China is admittedly brief and leaves out a lot. At some points during the post-production process we did discuss whether or not to add more about the history of rock in the PRC since Cui Jian first performed in the 1980s, but the story gets very complicated very quickly and would make a good subject for its own film. So we skip right over to the present day (or at least, the year 2007) and move on from there. From what I was able to gather in the six months of filming and from what I have seen and heard since, the scene is still growing and will continue to do so, but it's incredibly difficult in China for indie bands to compete with the heavily commercialized pop music that still streams in from Taiwan and Hong Kong. Of all the shows and festivals you saw and shot for the film, what was your favorite? AF: I'd have to say that it was the Cui Jian Sands Auto Rock Festival held in the outskirts of Yueyang in [Hunan Province](http://www.chinatravel.net/china-destinations/hunan/provinceintroduction-21.html). That was my first time seeing Cui Jian perform live, so that in itself was a magical experience. The location was one of the strangest, remotest and most otherworldly places I've ever seen for a rock concert. It was literally held on a huge expanse of sand in the middle of rural Hunan, surrounded by green hills. Thousands of villagers had walked for miles to attend, and hundreds of vehicles had brought urban folk there from nearby Changsha and other cities in the region. And of course SUBS were awesome as usual, though this time instead of performing to a few dozen loyal fans in a dank underground rock club, they were playing to an audience of several thousand people. It was incredibly hot that day as I recall, and the sand was blowing about and getting into every nook and crevice. Hundreds of umbrellas and tents had been erected for people to escape the intense summer heat. Things got better when evening came and the bands started to play. Another band that played that night was the Verse, a great James Brown-style soul act complete with backup singers and a horn section. Unfortunately they didn't make it into our final edit since we needed to focus on the relationship between SUBS and Cui Jian. Your film was shot beginning in 2007 and it's been almost 4 years since you began this project. What has the experience been like for you? Do you have any plans to make a sequel or another film?
AF: I learned an incredible amount about the film making process, both through the experience itself and through working with Jud. Jud had been through that process already with another film of his own, so he had a lot of experience to convey in terms of the steps and stages of the process. I'd been through the process myself but never in such a deliberate and meticulous way. We went through nine versions of the film making minute changes each time to the contents before we were satisfied with the results. In terms of future plans, given all of the time and energy I have invested, and all that I have learned, I would like to continue to develop other film making projects in future. On the other hand, one of the hard lessons that I did learn through this process is the need for more advanced planning and preparation as well as financial and institutional support for such a venture, given the enormous costs in time and energy that it involves. How have you seen the overall scope of the film change since you first started working Down?
JW: Before I started working on this project, Andy lent me a Time-Life DVD Documentary series on Rock Music. It was like an 8 hour series and I loved it! There was nothing dramatic or contrived, it was just a great profile of rock music throughout the ages. Finally, when I did get involved with Andy’s film, I looked to that series as a model. We didn’t have a dramatic story line but we had some great bands making great music. I thought then that the movie should just do it’s best to present the bands and the music in an entertaining way and if we could do that, it’d be enough. From then on it’s just been a constant process of refinement. What are your ultimate hopes for Down: Indie Rock in the PRC?
AF: I hope that this film will stand the test of time as an honest and genuine portrayal of the Chinese indie rock scene in a vital phase of its development. It should also stand as a documentation of Chinese society in a time of great change and rapid development. I do not expect this film to be a great commercial success, but you never know. There are thousands of independent documentary filmmakers struggling with few resources except their time and their spirit to get their stories out. I can't say whether or not this story is any more important or unique than the others out there, but I do hope that it finds its niche and its audience, and that it has a lasting value. JW: I just hope people will enjoy the film. We put a lot of energy into making the film so a distribution deal would be nice too. In the meantime, I think with the upcoming preview screening and a possible premier screening over the summer, just getting people out to see it is enough. What's next for both of you?
AF: I am looking forward to our screening of the film on April 9 along with a concert by SUBS. Kang Mao has seen the film already and said it was 牛B. Screening it to the public with a SUBS concert is a dream come true for me after so many years of struggling to make the film. After that we have plans to continue screening it in Beijing and Shanghai as well as get it into film festivals around the world. We are calling this screening a "sneak preview" since the film is not yet completely finished and we haven't yet found a distributor, but hopefully we will eventually be able to hold a "premier" of a finished product. Meanwhile I am trying to rev up my career as a teacher and scholar, currently with NYU in Shanghai. I have a second book manuscript that I wrote with James Farrer called Shanghai Nightscapes: Nightlife, Globalization, and Sexuality in the Chinese Metropolis, 1920-2010 which is now being reviewed by a major academic press. My first book [Shanghai's Dancing World](http://blog.chinatravel.net/culture-history/shanghai-literary-festival-andrew-field-dancing-cabaret-culture.html) is still being reviewed by academic journals but the results so far are very positive. I also have many other writing projects that I need to tackle. But I am also thinking about how to conceptualize and garner support for another film making venture, which is too early to discuss in any detail. Other than that I am struggling to juggle my multiple identities and obligations as a teacher, scholar, father, husband, friend, writer, blogger, author, musician, and artist. Beer helps. JW: I’ve started a new indie-doc film project about the growing Ultimate Frisbee Scene in China. It centers around the concept of Spirit of the Game, or SOTG, and follows the China team to Prague where they competed last summer in the World Championships. I’m also developing a few narrative scripts and I take on commercial producing and directing projects as well.


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