Joe Xu Premieres New Documentary in Madison

On Sunday, October 9 at 2:00pm, the feature documentary The People’s Republic of Love will premiere in Madison’s Asian American Media Spotlight. The independent documentary explores the concept of love in China, examining its cultural, economic, political, and often surprising manifestations. Created mainly by a core crew of only four people, the film was co-written and co-produced by Joe Xu, a Communication Arts graduate student.

Before starting his Masters at UW-Madison, Joe Xu worked as a journalist in China for NPR and CBS for a number of years, as well as a freelance documentarian, producing news on the side. Now, his research focuses on digital media in urban spaces and usually deals with Chinese youth, utilizing connections he has made through his work in the field. 

One such connection was made at CBS, where he met his eventual fellow crew members of The People’s Republic of Love, director/co-writer Nathan Mauger and co-producer Connie Young. Having tackled similar stories about dating trends for CBS, they realized they wanted to take a closer look at the unique dating landscape in China.

When asked about their motivations to make the film, Xu said, “We got together and decided to do something according to our own vision or passion for a subject because news is very constraining, because [in news] we’re told what to do.” He continued, “A news piece is about three and a half minutes. You can’t tell a story in three and a half minutes, so I prefer a long format to actually have enough space and time to talk about a real issue.”

The movie is mostly self-funded and production began in 2012. Xu worked on the film as a side project while freelancing, working with his fellow filmmakers as they traveled to over a dozen cities, from Beijing to Shanghai, to rural areas of the country. As co-producer, he did a lot of fieldwork, including pre-production, research, conducting interviews, writing, transcribing, fact-checking, and more.

“We go across the country talking to different people, people from different classes, different backgrounds, and talk about their perception of love,” Xu said. “We cover some of the more interesting developments in recent years. We went on a dating show geared toward senior citizens, we went to various dating companies, marriage matchmaking companies, we talked to LGBT couples and their trials and tribulations living in that society. So it’s kind of a multifarious look at love and marriages in China.” 

The process was not without its challenges, though. “Working in China is kind of tough because there’s a lot of restriction on what you can film and not film. You often need to get prior approval to film, and often times people are kind of hesitant to talk about certain things, especially kind of touchy issues,” Xu said.

With the premiere fast-approaching, Xu is excited for it but not sure what the audience’s reaction will be. “In the news, China’s always framed in the monolith, China’s framed as a rival, in either a political or economic, almost antagonistic way. Very few attentions are paid to the social, cultural aspect of the nation. I hope it will bring some new light into issues over there that people will think are interesting to look at… and illustrate some of the fissures between the traditional and the reformed China.”

The People’s Republic of Love premieres Sunday October 9 at 2:00pm in the Elvehjem L140 theater as part of Madison’s Asian American Media Spotlight. Each screening in the spotlight will be followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers, so be sure to check them out October 7-9! See the full schedule here: