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A conversation with the filmmaker Shengze Zhu

Published: 04.12.2019


After her directorial debut, Out Of Focus (2014), and her much accoladed Another Year (2016), a three-hour film about thirteen evening meals taken by a family of migrant workers in China, the Chinese documentary filmmaker Shengze Zhu—co-founder of the production company Burn The Film—spent hundreds of hours with live-streamers for her most recent work, Present.Perfect. From her recorded footage she created a narrative in four chapters without additionally filmed material. The protagonists of the film talk about their daily routines, chat with their followers, share their lives. They include a seamstress who sews underwear in a clothes factory, an accident victim whose face was disfigured by a fire, a thirty-year-old who still looks like a twelve-year-old boy. DIAPHANES talks to Shengze Zhu about the making of her film, which won the Tiger Award at the International film Festival Rotterdam (2019), about the live-streaming industry in China, the loneliness of her protagonists, and the social implications of this form of communication, which is enjoying a boom in China.

Can you describe the phenomenon of live-streaming sites in China. When did it start? How has it developed? What is the present situation?

Live-streaming is a relatively new medium. Back in 2010 or 2011 it barely existed in China. But over the past several years it has become one of the most profitable industries. According to a report from a state-owned agency, the revenue from live-streaming reached 30.45 billion yuan (about 4.76 billion US dollars) in China in 2017, with more than 400 million active users involved.

The year of 2016 is widely considered as the “year zero” for the live-streaming craze. There were more than 300 companies in China that provided online live streaming platforms, according to an incomplete statistics in 2016. While live-streaming has grown at an astounding speed, problems such as the streaming of obscenity, violence, and other inappropriate content also emerged. And its capability to disseminate anonymous, unregulated, and user-generated content has caught the attention of the authorities. A formal set of regulations and laws has taken effect since late 2016, aiming at cleaning up the cyberspace as well as maintaining cybersecurity. Although streaming anchors can determine their online persona, they must now register the live-streaming account with their real name and citizen ID number, and their online behaviors are strictly regulated.

Live-streaming is one of the most popular social media in China...

  • identity
  • digital culture
  • subjectification
  • mass media
  • social media

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