Xiaolu Guo: Photograph by Philippe Ciompi

 

Prolific Chinese-British filmmaker and novelist Xiaolu Guo has been the central force behind no less than eleven films and nine novels, and was this year named one of Granta magazine’s twenty ‘Best of Young British Novelists’. She has lived in Paris, Berlin and Beijing, but now resides in East London.

This month sees the première at the London Film Festival of the artist’s latest documentary film, Late At Night: Voices of Ordinary Madness.

Capturing the human cost of capitalism, Late At Night… focuses on the stories of those who inhabit East London, many of them immigrants, and hints at the personal and physical struggles they face to reach these shores.

A beguiling mixture of character study, archival material, old news reports, snippets of literary sources, and a surprising choice of soundtrack – from firebrand British-Jamaican ‘dub poet’ Linton Kwesi Johnson to the ubiquitous king of Nigerian Afrobeat, Fela Kuti – the documentary explores issues of alienation, a theme already touched on with her novel, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers.

“The film is really an impressionistic mosaic of people from the area”, she says. “It is about those voices we barely listen to in day-to-day life, like street people, for instance. We live amongst them yet we barely talk to them”.

Living in East London she describes as a “rough and complicated experience”: “I don’t find it easy to live around here,” Xiaolu admits, hinting at her own sense of alienation from her surroundings. She says: “I think urban environments in big cities are the most alienated spaces on Earth. I find it extremely unsettling in this country that people pay so much attention to the Royal Family’s wedding and big celebrities’ private life, yet have so little interest in looking at the vast underclass of society – street people, beggars, and working-class people who are everywhere in our neighbourhood.”

Describing her ability to combine artistic disciplines as a filmmaker, producer, scriptwriter, poet, and novelist, Xiaolu says: “I cannot stay still. I do enjoy the differences between these media, but I cannot see myself as a professional filmmaker in the sense that I don’t trust the film industry these days at all. Too much fake stuff and bubbles. Vanity and media power seem to swallow the truth of cinema – when I say cinema, I don’t mean mono-cinema Hollywood.”

Instead, Xiaolu’s work feels rooted in reality, away from the glamour and excess of the film industry. She remains a real outsider artist.

Late at Night: Voices of Ordinary Madness is showing at Rich Mix on 10 October at 6.30pm as part of the BFI London Film Festival.

 

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