Tiger Award, 2019 International Film Festival Rotterdam
A crane operator, a handsome man without arms and legs, a 30-year-old who never underwent puberty, an emphatically terrible dancer, a young mother whose 3-year-old daughter joins her at the underwear factory. All of them, streaming their lives online to paying audiences, answering highly personal questions with shockingly casual honesty. This was the phenomenon of live streaming in China, enormously popular prior to a 2017 censorship crack-down. In her monumental documentary, director Shengze Zhu weaves together dozens of streams, creating a collective portrait of both the diverse personalities who cam, and of the invisible audiences whom (like us) they fascinate.
At its world premiere in Rotterdam, PRESENT. PERFECT. took home the prestigious Hivos Tiger Award – the first film composed of “found footage” to do so. But while at first glance PRESENT. PERFECT. might seem to be an act of curation, like a video mixtape–in fact, the process of making the film was in many ways closer to a traditional documentary. As streams are not archived, Zhu had to be online, watching and recording her subjects in real-time. From distant Chicago, for 10 months she devoted her time to recording them as they streamed, whenever they chose to, eager to never miss a crucial moment. Her live presence as their witness is central to how the film works. In the long-duration single takes that make up much of the film, we join Zhu in her friendly, curious sharing of presence with these charismatic, sad, funny, and disarmingly open strangers.