Through the Looking Glass | The First Monday in May at Left Bank Leeds

A documentary about couture fashion and A-list celebrities, The First Monday in May also has a lot to say about our understanding of Chinese culture. Frances Noble explains why The Business Confucius Institute is supporting a screening of the film at Left Bank Leeds, and what the Institute has in common with Rihanna…

‘Isn’t it amazing how fashion can bring two cultures together?’ declares Rihanna, standing on stage poised to perform at the celebrated Met Gala on the first Monday in May, 2015. The China-themed Gala, marking the opening of the China: Through the Looking Glass exhibition, is well underway, and will go on to become the most successful ever in the history of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. The First Monday in May takes viewers along for the ride, offering a fascinating look behind-the-scenes as the exhibition and its opening event are conceived and brought to life.

The opportunity to see the film later this month at Left Bank Leeds is not to be missed. Many of the things we at the Institute love about Leeds – its amazing venues, its creative community, its diversity – are represented in the event and in the film itself, connecting ever strongly with our values and our work.

Here are five reasons why the Business Confucius Institute at the University of Leeds is excited to support this Film Fringe screening of The First Monday in May.

1. We love film

In September last year we showed In the Mood for Love at the Hyde Park Picture House to celebrate Confucius Institute Day. Wong Kar-Wai’s film is frequently cited as a key influence on fashion designers: speaking in The First Monday in May, Jean Paul Gaultier explains how his Chinese collection came out about a year after seeing it.

The influence is quite literal in fact, since Wong Kar-Wai also just happens to be the artistic director of China: Through the Looking Glass, his filmic sensibilities evidenced by the clips of classic Chinese movies projected into exhibition spaces, and by references to early film stars such as Anna May Wong. You will leave this screening with a few new ideas of what to watch next!

2. We work closely with fashion students at Leeds College of Art

Leeds Light Night Highlights

Just like Rihanna, we really do believe that fashion can bring two cultures together. Leeds College of Art is a Confucius Classroom with links to our Business Confucius Institute. Together we work on exciting projects learning about China to enhance students’ employability and creativity. A module entitled Travel Broadens the Mind requires students to design a modern take on the traditional Chinese qipao (a one-piece dress for women), blending Eastern and Western elements to create something new and forward-looking. The winning designs are professionally made and showcased at events such as our Chinese New Year Gala (earlier this year) and our Leeds Light Night Fashion Show in 2015.

The First Monday in May presents numerous examples of garments energised by Chinese culture, including Guo Pei’s infamous dragon dress and garments referencing blue and white porcelain.

3. Left Bank Leeds & Film Fringe are great examples of the Leeds cultural scene

We love working with venues and organisations across the region to bring their audience something new and exciting, as well as teaching them about another culture. This screening is an opportunity to enjoy a fantastic film in a unique venue. What’s not to love about that?

4. Cross-cultural understanding comes in many forms

Exhibition curator Andrew Bolton faces obstacles as he attempts to encapsulate China’s influence on fashion in the exhibition. Concerns are expressed that placing garments next to artefacts in the Asian Gallery will ‘overshadow or demean the objects,’ and use Chinese art as a ‘stage prop.’ The discussions and debates presented in the documentary raise questions about stereotypes and how best to represent a culture. There is no reason why these themes cannot be explored while watching this inspiring and entertaining film.

5. We know exactly how they feel…

Vogue Editor Anna Wintour has turned the Met Gala into a huge event that raises millions for the Costume Institute. The First Monday in May gets its name from the date of this annual event, which also marks the opening of China: Through the Looking Glass. The film gives an insight into how Wintour and her team make the event a reality, from negotiating Rihanna’s appearance fee to working out the seating plan and volunteer team. The tension builds as the date approaches and people have to work around the clock to get the exhibition and Gala ready in time. With a busy events programme running throughout the year, we know how that feels: to mark the UK-China Year of Cultural Exchange in 2015 we organised a fashion show, an art exhibition, a kung-fu and dance show, and more – all in the same month!

Join us at Left Bank Leeds to enjoy an inspiring success story, get a glimpse behind-the-scenes of an exclusive event and blockbuster exhibition, and learn about China from a completely different angle.

The First Monday in May will be screened at Left Bank Leeds on Thursday 30th March 2017. Please arrive at 7:30 pm for an 8.00 pm start. £5 (£4 concession) in advance or on the door.

The Business Confucius Institute at the University of Leeds promotes understanding of Chinese language and culture through teaching and cultural events. Visit our website or find us on Twitter and Facebook.

Leeds Film Fringe is a cinema project in Leeds that likes to add films, particularly documentaries, to existing cultural programmes around the city.