The first conversation with the friendly caregiver already sends a chill down the spine: “What’s your former profession?” she asks jovially. The newly admitted patient hesitates. “Why former? I still work as a university lecturer.”
Director Ma Li spent over a year observing the patients at a mental asylum in northern China. Many of them have been here for years, yet there are no traces of their stay. No pictures adorn the walls, nor are there any personal possessions on the dormitory night tables. The inmates wear the same patterned pyjamas day and night. The heavily desaturated colours lend the film an almost black-and-white quality, underscoring the chilly atmosphere. When someone wears their own jumper here over the institutional clothing, it comes across like an act of resistance. And yet while the seasons change outside, any hope of ever experiencing freedom again wanes.
Over five intense hours, Qiu raises the question of how ill-defined the border between sanity and madness actually is. The film provides no answer. But it allows us to experience how quickly exceptional circumstances can become routine.
by Ma Li People’s Republic of China 2017 Mandarin 287’ Colour Documentary form


Director Ma Li
Editing Ma Li
Music Yang Haisong
Producer Ma Li

Produced by

Ma Li

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Ma Li

Born in 1975 in Zhuji, Zhejiang, China. She studied Chinese Linguistics in Beijing. Qiu is her third full-length documentary film.


2011 Wujing (Mirror of Emptiness); 120 min. 2012 Jingsheng (Born in Beijing); 240 min. 2017 Qiu (Inmates)

Bio- & filmography as of Berlinale 2017