Part One: Disrupted Views (11–21 March 2021)

Beijing SpringTalking About TreesWhat We Left Unfinished

Beijing Spring
Andy Cohen, Gaylen Ross (co-director)|102 min|2021|USA|English and Mandarin with Chinese and English subtitles


In the late 1970s, a group of painters, sculptors, poets, photographers, and publishers in China took part in a movement for artistic freedom and social reform. Beijing Spring is a documentary that recounts the movement’s activities from the participants’ perspectives. It centres around the Stars Group, a collective including Ai Weiwei, Huang Rui, Li Shuang, Ma Desheng, and Wang Keping, who explored the possibilities of art beyond conventional modes of expression at the time. In an ad hoc, unsanctioned event organised by the group in September 1979, works were hung from fences near the China Arts Gallery (now the National Art Museum) in the country’s capital. Featuring photographer Chi Xiaoning’s never-before-seen excerpts, Beijing Spring documents the forced closure of the now landmark Stars Art Exhibition, the subsequent street demonstrations, and the relocation of the show, offering a close look at a groundbreaking moment in the development of contemporary Chinese art.

Andy Cohen (born 1965 in the USA) is an independent filmmaker, journalist, and the founder of AC Films. Seeking to affect social change, his works often deal with human rights issues. He is the executive producer of several documentaries, including Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012), Hooligan Sparrow (2016), and Human Flow (2017). He is also a contributing editor at ArtAsiaPacific, where he wrote and directed a series of videos on Chinese contemporary artists.

Talking About Trees
Suhaib Gasmelbari|93 min|2019|France, Sudan, Germany, Chad, Qatar|Arabic with Chinese and English subtitles


A tender tribute to friendship, solidarity, determination, and shared histories, Talking About Trees is a luminous portrait of four brave men who, with wit and endless patience, tackle all manner of power outages, technical difficulties, and bureaucracy as they try to reopen an old derelict cinema in Khartoum. Memories of cinema-going and filmmaking in Sudan have been fading amidst several periods of sociopolitical turbulence, especially since the 1989 military coup, when cinemas were forced to shutter. That year also saw the establishment of the Sudanese Film Group, an independent collective founded by four filmmakers who had all studied abroad and had made critically acclaimed films independently in the 1970s and 1980s. Nearly three decades later, the elderly friends reunite in hopes of reviving a love for the country’s cinema culture.

Suhaib Gasmelbari (born 1979 in Sudan) studied cinema at the Université Paris 8 in France and has worked for Al Qarra, Al Jazeera, and France 24 as a cinematographer and editor. Director and writer of short narrative and documentary films, Gasmelbari is also a researcher of audiovisual archives and has participated in local and international projects to preserve and digitise Sudanese films that were previously thought lost. Talking About Trees is his first feature film.

What We Left Unfinished
Mariam Ghani|71 min|2019|USA, Afghanistan, Qatar|Dari and English with Chinese and English subtitles


As part of Mariam Ghani’s ongoing research, exhibition, and book project, What We Left Unfinished uncovers the stories behind five incomplete feature films produced in Afghanistan during communist rule from 1978 to 1991. Ghani presents extensive interviews with filmmakers, actors, and other participants who, despite challenging circumstances at the time, continued to pursue their cinematic visions. The interviewees share first-hand experiences of making these fictional films, which involved re-enactments by real military personnel using real bullets and tanks, instead of props. Pairing recently rediscovered or restored excerpts with present-day scenes shot in the same locations by some of the same filmmakers, Ghani traces the boundaries between storytelling and real life, crafting an intricate narrative about the shifting nature of filmmaking, history, and artistic vision.

Mariam Ghani (born 1978 in the USA) is a visual artist, writer, filmmaker, and teacher based in New York, whose research-based practice spans video, installation, photography, performance, and text. Her work has been exhibited in transmediale in Berlin, the Liverpool and Sharjah biennials, dOCUMENTA 13 in Kabul and Kassel, and Museum of Modern Art in New York. Ghani’s recent curatorial projects include the international symposium 'Radical Archives’; the video and performance series ‘Performed Places’; the experimental archive in collaboration with Chitra Ganesh, the ‘Index of the Disappeared’; and the Afghan Films online archive at What We Left Unfinished is Ghani’s first feature film.