Experiencing a century's work of film in a few days' time

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Comentary by Steve Ungar for the Iowa City Press-Citizen


Steve Ungar

The upcoming Oscars are a reminder that whether you call them movies, films or cinema, motion pictures have always been a mix of industry and art.

Feature films move audiences by the stories they tell and the audiovisual effects they use to tell them. Nonfiction and documentary films draw on the real world in which filmmakers and spectators live. Through the early 1960s, weekly newsreels were a staple of commercial programming until they were replaced by daily television news broadcasts.

Journalistic, educational and scientific films provide instruction and knowledge. Others challenge audiences to think and to act by addressing social issues and problems. As technology has evolved, so, too, has the public sphere surrounding the making, distribution and consumption of moving images. As moving images are produced and consumed in greater volume and at greater speeds, the stakes for what they can say and do likewise heighten.

This week, Iowa Citians have a unique opportunity to see a documentary whose focus is a recent test-case of conditions affecting free speech in contemporary China. Filmmaker Steve Maing will be in Iowa City on Thursday and Friday to show and talk about “High Tech, Low Life,” his prize-winning 2012 documentary feature about efforts by two citizen bloggers to use social media to challenge the status quo by reporting on stories that the Great Firewall of censorship never allows to appear on state-run outlets. A screening of “High Tech, Low Life” (85 minutes) will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday in the UI Main Library’s Shambaugh Auditorium and will be followed by a question and answer session with the filmmaker.

Two related events follow the Thursday screening. Maing will be in the Franklin Miller Screening Room (105 Adler Journalism Building) from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday to show outtakes from “High Tech, Low Life.” At the same session, UI undergraduate Xin Wang will screen his hybrid documentary on Chinese students’ experiences living in Iowa City.

Maing also will to participate in the WorldCanvass discussion “A Century of Film in the Public Sphere” at 5 p.m. Friday in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol. He will be talking with UI faculty and students from the Department of Cinema & Comparative Literature, the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Department of Political Science. All three events are free and open to the public.

I hope you’ll take the opportunity to enjoy some or all of these events. Everyone loves movies and this is a rare chance to engage directly with filmmakers and their work.

Steven Ungar is a professor and the head of film studies in the UI Department of Cinema and Comparative Literature.

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