Conference presentation: Media engagement and witnessing: The Sichuan earthquake on documentary film

Today I presented a paper at the conference Media Engagement organized by the Department Communication and Media at Lund University.

Media engagement and witnessing: The Sichuan earthquake on documentary film

This paper addresses the role of socially engaged documentary filmmaking in China, and the impact of new digital technologies for filmmaking. In 2008, a devastating earthquake hit Sichuan province in China, resulting in the loss of almost 90,000 lives. For the first time, a natural disaster was extensively covered in traditional media and spontaneous support groups were formed. However, this freedom to report came to a halt when people started demanding justice and voicing criticism of the poor quality of schools that had led to the death of many children. After the media was forced to stop reporting independent documentary filmmakers and activists joined forces to bear witness to the devastating effects of the earthquake and to the parents’ trauma and struggles for justice.

This paper engages with recent works on citizen journalism, digital and video activism, media engagement and witnessing, and the role of documentary film. It discusses whether and how independent documentary filmmaking in China can bypass traditional gatekeepers and constitute a new form of media engagement, and whether it also may break down old boundaries between citizens and filmmakers. Censorship and difficulties to circulate and screen these films however serve to alert us to the limits of media engagement and witnessing through documentary film in the Chinese context.

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