Nordic exposure

Updated: 2012-02-24 08:40

By Liu Lu (China Daily)

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Nordic exposure

Henri Seng believes documentary films can help Chinese and Westerners reduce mutual misunderstanding. Wang Jing / China Daily

Chinese-Swedish film director helps put cross-cultural dialogue at center stage

When film director Henri Seng launched the Nordic Documentary Film Festival six years ago in Beijing, he had no specific agenda and wanted only to bring a diverse range of "good documentaries" from Nordic countries to China.

But in just a few years, the festival, also known as Nordox and touted as the first of its kind in China, has established itself in the Chinese capital's calendar as a major offering of recent Nordic documentary films that are considered some of the most cutting-edge, creative and artistically dazzling in their field.

"I hope the event will be helpful in promoting knowledge about Nordic culture in China, by screening socio-politically engaged documentary films," says the 48-year-old Seng, who was born in East China's Jiangsu province before moving to Sweden after graduating from university.

As Nordox's founder and program director, Seng also hopes the festival can serve as a platform for Sino-Nordic cross-cultural dialogue.

"It opens a new gateway for Chinese to broaden their horizon and deepen their understanding of the outside world."

Before moving to Beijing in 2005, Seng worked as a graphic designer and documentary film director in Stockholm.

His first documentary Beijing Beijing, made in 2003, is considered the first documentary about China shot by a Swedish director that has been screened on local television.

The film talks about Beijing's burgeoning artistic community, and made waves as soon as it was broadcast.

About 80,000 people watched the film, Seng cites local TV figures as showing.

"Because the majority of the audience had little knowledge of China, they were very surprised at the booming contemporary art scene in Beijing, which is so open and forward," Seng says.

The success of Beijing Beijing reinforced Seng's determination to produce more China-themed documentaries. He also felt a strong sense of duty to present the real China to people in Europe.

He has already shot four China-themed documentaries and more are expected.

"Unlike commercial films, documentary films are powerful shortcuts for people to understand better things that they are unclear about," Seng says.

"Some Westerners are biased against China due to their lack of knowledge of the country. As a documentary film director with a Chinese background, I have the responsibility to help both sides eliminate mutual misunderstanding with the help of documentary films."

Fueled by this purpose, Seng opened Nordox in 2006 at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in the 798 art zone, a thriving artistic community in Beijing.

The event has since provided people with an opportunity to view award-winning documentaries from all five Nordic countries - Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden - every year in Beijing.

All Nordox films are carefully picked by Seng, with their themes covering a broad range of topics from social issues to love affairs.

"Nordox is a non-profit film activity. Every year a diversity of themes and perspectives are explored, including politics, society, environmental issues, art and music," Seng says.

About 20 Nordic films are offered every year at the event.

The festival has been attracting significant Chinese as well as international audiences, with 3,746 people attending in 2010.

With support from the film boards of the five Nordic countries, Nordox has also become increasingly influential in China's film industry and gradually recognized by international filmmakers.

Similarly, the festival has forged close ties with other major documentary film festivals.

Since 2006, Nordox has worked with Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival in Denmark and the Tempo Documentary Festival in Sweden, to invite directors as consultants for Nordox.

The growing reputation of Nordox has pushed Seng to expand Chinese audiences of Nordic films.

Last year, the festival took its first step to grow beyond Beijing by expanding to Guangzhou and Shanghai.

Nordox has also gone beyond film as a vehicle for documenting the world by holding a photo exhibition of recent works from Nordic artists.

Seng plans to show Nordox films to more Chinese university students and plans to cooperate with the Nordic Center of Fudan University.

Apart from introducing Nordic films to China, Seng is also promoting good Chinese-made documentaries on the international stage.

"China's cultural and creative spheres have become more open today. I hope to introduce some excellent Chinese documentary films to Europe," he says.

In the past few years, Seng has taken several Chinese documentary films to the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.

But shooting more documentaries about China remains Seng's greatest wish.

"I hope people know more about China through my lens."