Beijing Independent Film Festival: Video and Summary of Reports

September 5th, 2014

The Chinese Film Festival Studies Research Network has posted a helpful collection of links to news reports, statements and other information related to the closing of the Beijing Independent Film Festival last August. Also included are statements from festival organizer Li Xianting listing a timeline of his interactions with authorities prior to the shutdown and an official response (in Chinese) from the Festival to the authorities.  The site also links to a Chinese-language editorial by independent film producer and programmer Zhang Xianmin on the current difficulties facing independent film festivals in China, originally published in the Chinese edition of the New York Times.

Scott E. Myers, PhD Candidate of the University of Chicago, also contributed his first-person account of what happened on the day of the shutdown. Below is video footage of locals confronting festival attendees that day, posted on the YouTube account of filmmaker and festival organizer Wang Wo.

Report on How Documentaries are Controlled in China

August 29th, 2014
Li Xianting, film critic and organizer of the Beijing Independent Film Festival (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Li Xianting, film critic and organizer of the Beijing Independent Film Festival (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Following the recent shutdown of the Beijing Independent Film Festival, Louise Watt reports in the Associated Press on the larger state mechanisms that control documentary production and distribution in China:

China is wooing filmmakers at the same time as it’s cracking down on them. Authorities are handing more slots to documentaries, giving even independent filmmakers a chance to be shown on state television. But while China is avidly pursuing what it considers serious content to replace popular dating, reality and game shows, it is also stifling material with any whiff of challenging the Communist Party line. A weekend crackdown by authorities on an independent film festival in Beijing was the worst in its eight-year history, with police confiscating hundreds of films and briefly detaining two organizers.

On the one hand, there is a push to use documentary to promote an ideal image of China across the world while countering less substantive television programming domestically:

The government approves of such documentaries that “accord with the view of China as being a magical place full of interesting customs, traditions and good food,” said Michael Keane, an expert on China’s creative industries at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.

Li Xiaofeng, a documentaries expert at Nanjing University’s School of Journalism and Communication, said the government was encouraging documentaries to help boost China’s reputation abroad and to counter the trend of “too many” variety and other entertainment shows on local TV stations.

On the other hand, the highly regulated and restrictive environment for such films lead young filmmakers to independent venues to seek opportunities for freer expression:

Kevin B. Lee, the vice president of programming for dGenerate Films, which distributes Chinese independent films to North America, said the Beijing Independent Film Festival, which was due to open this year on Saturday, was a “vital channel” for discovering young filmmakers.

Lee said production of independent films on the mainland has “just flourished” over the past 10 years because equipment has become cheaper and more convenient. But he added that in the past two years, disruptions of film festivals have made it harder to know what’s out there.

“I worry about the upcoming as-yet-unknown talents for whom really the festival is often the first exposure they have to an outside audience,” Lee said.

Read the full report at Associated Press.

Chinese Cinema Author Expresses Changing Opinion of Indie Films

August 28th, 2014
China on Film: A Century of Exploration, Confrontation and Controversy, by Paul Pickowicz

China on Film: A Century of Exploration, Confrontation and Controversy, by Paul Pickowicz

Recently China Digital Times interviewed Paul Pickowicz, Distinguished Professor of History and Chinese Studies at the University of California San Diego and author of China on Film: A Century of Exploration, Confrontation and Controversy (Rowan and Littlefield 2013). In a long and far-ranging conversation, Pickowicz reflects on his groundbreaking work at the China Film Archive in the 1980s, forging relationships with Chinese film scholars and filmmakers at a time when the Chinese film industry saw little interaction with the West.  He also shares his observations on different eras of Chinese film from the 1920s to the present.Of particular relevance to us at dGenerate is his answer to a question regarding his shifting opinion of the independent films of the past two decades:

CDT: Why did you initially deem the wave of underground and independent productions that came out shortly before and after 2000  “self-indulgent” and “trivial” but later change your mind saying “Chinese artists had earned the right to be self-indulgent” because of decades of “Maoist collectivism and asceticism.” 

PGP: When I first began to take a close look at large numbers of these films, documentaries and features alike, I was no doubt hoping for the same sort of independent, critical engagement with broad social issues that we see in the films made before 1949 by independent, non-state sector filmmakers.  I was looking for political critiques and at least some finger pointing.  I was interested in such issues as environmental degradation, recovering lost histories, child trafficking, corruption, and organized crime.  Eventually I found many significant works that treated such topics, films like Peng Tao’s Red Snow (Hongse xue, 2006), Liu Bingjian’s Crying Woman (Kuqi de nuren, 2002), and Ai Xiaoming’s Love and Care (Guan ai zhi jia, 2007).  But initially I looked randomly through our collection and struck by the large numbers of films that seemed very inwardly directed instead of outwardly directed.  I was looking for critical protest films but was confronted by very large numbers of films, especially documentaries, that screamed, “Look at me!”  They seemed very self-indulgent to me and I quickly tired of their repetitiveness.  But of course I soon realized that these films were highly political in their own ways.  They were, after all, a very logical response to decades of Maoist collectivism when people were supposed to “merge with the masses” and deny “self.”  Once a space suddenly opened up for reflections on self and individual identities, many, many young urbanites took the plunge.  They engaged with passion in what I call “identity searches.”

The full interview can be read at China Digital Times.

Three New Titles Added to dGenerate Films Collection

August 27th, 2014
Mothers (dir. Xu Huijing)

Mothers (dir. Xu Huijing)

We are happy to announce three new additions to the dGenerate Films collection, released by Icarus Films just in time for the new school year!

Sterilization quotas seem like the stuff of science fiction–but they are all too real as documented in the shocking exposé Mothers, a film by Xu Huijing that offers a powerful feminist perspective, as we watch men developing and enforcing reproductive policies for women.

Meat is central to the daily meals of billions of people, yet the enormous environmental, climate, public health, ethical, and human impacts of its consumption are remain largely undocumented. Jian Yi’s new short film What’s For Dinner? explores this terrain in fast-globalizing China through the eyes of a pig farmer in rural Jiangxi province; a vegan restaurateur in Beijing; a bullish young livestock entrepreneur; and residents of the infamous Chinese region nicknamed “the world’s meat factory.”

It was 12 o’clock at night when police knocked on the door for a “room inspection.” “I turned on a small camcorder. This film is the record of that visit,” explains Zhu Rikun–filmmaker, distributor, and artistic director of the Beijing Independent Documentary Festival–of his explosive short film The Questioning.

These three new films are part of the dGenerate Films Collection at Icarus Films, as well as IcarusFilms’ extensive collections of documentary films on Chinese StudiesAsian Studies,Women’s Studies, and Environmental Studies. The dGenerate collection also contains narrative films.

To preview or purchase these or any other IcarusFilms titles, contact Nina Riddel: (718) 488-8900 - nina [at] icarusfilms.com

A Statement of Support for the Beijing Independent Film Festival

August 26th, 2014
Official poster for the 2014 Beijing Independent Film Festival

Official poster for the 2014 Beijing Independent Film Festival

Jonathan Miller, President of Icarus Films, distributor of the dGenerate Films collection, Karin Chien, dGenerate Films President and Founder, and Kevin B. Lee, dGenerate Films Vice President of Programming, join the international film community in signing a statement of support of the Beijing Independent Film Festival, which was shut down on Saturday August 24 by authorities in Beijing. Below is background information on the statement, followed by the statement and list of co-signers.

As distributors of Chinese independent films, dGenerate Films has benefitted greatly over the years from the Beijing Independent Film Festival as a renowned resource to discover exciting new works of Chinese cinema. Many titles in the dGenerate Films collection originally premiered at the Festival, attesting to the Festival’s vital function in presenting new works of Chinese cinema to the world. dGenerate’s mission to help audiences outside of China access and discover Chinese independent films is greatly inspired by the work of the Beijing Independent Film Festival and its sponsoring organization, the Li Xianting Film Fund.

We will provide updates and link to news reports as the situation unfolds on the dGenerate Films website.

For examples of the outstanding work associated with the Beijing Independent Film Festival and Chinese independent filmmaking community it serves, view the selection of documentaries and narrative films from the dGenerate collection.

Background to the Statement: 

On Saturday, August 23, the day it was to open, the 11th annual Beijing Independent Film Festival was shut down by the Chinese authorities. BIFF, supported and hosted for many years by the Li Xianting Film Fund, has been one of the most important venues within China for the exhibition of new, unauthorized, independent Chinese film, films that the censors won’t allow to be openly screened for Chinese audiences. The festival takes place at the headquarters of the Li Xianting Film Fund in the artist village of Songzhuang, a distant suburb of Tongzhou District, Beijing. For the past three years, Chinese police and local authorities have harassed the festival. But they have not succeeded, until this year, in completely shutting it down.

Police, State Security personnel, and representatives of various levels of government contacted and pressured the festival: on Saturday the electricity to the festival’s headquarters and sponsoring organization, the Li Xianting Film Fund, was cut, and anonymous “villagers” were sent to surround the headquarters and in some cases physically intimidate visitors and journalists. In what may be even more ominous news, noted critic and festival sponsor Li Xianting reported that the Film Fund’s complete archives and equipment were forcibly confiscated by the Chinese police. These archives comprise what is likely the most extensive collection within China of independent films and related research materials from the last ten years.

Statement in Support of the Beijing Independent Film Festival and the Li Xianting Film Fund:

As independent film festivals and supporters of independent cinema, we have learned with deep concern that the Chinese government and police authorities have prevented the 11th Beijing Independent Film Festival, based in Songzhuang, Beijing, from opening last weekend, August 23rd, and detained its organizers Wang Hongwei, Fan Rong, and Li Xianting for several hours. We are also deeply concerned that BIFF’s sponsoring organization, the Li Xianting Film Fund, has been raided, and the entirety of its invaluable archives of independent Chinese cinema have reportedly been confiscated.

We call upon the relevant Chinese authorities to permit the Beijing Independent Film Festival to pursue its mission to nurture and exhibit a full range of alternative cinematic voices in China, to allow the festival to operate without interference, and to allow the Li Xianting Film Fund to continue its vital mission of archiving and supporting independent Chinese filmmakers.

 

Co-signed:

Berlinale Forum, Christoph Terhechte, Head
Curtas Vila do Conde International Film Festival, Nuno Rodrigues, Miguel Dias, Mário Micaelo , co-directors
dGenerate Films, Karin Chien, President
DocLisboa, Cíntia Gil and Augusto M. Seabra, co-directors
Festival International du Film de Belfort – EntreVues, Lili Hinstin, Artistic Director
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Dennis Lim, Director of Programming
Göteborg International Film Festival, Jonas Holmberg, Artistic Director,
Marit Kapla, Head of Programme
Hong Kong Independent Film Festival, Vincent Chui, Artistic Director
Images Cinema, Doug Jones, Executive DIrector
International Film Festival Rotterdam, Rutger Wolfson, Festival Director
Lima Independiente Festival Internacional de Cine, Alonso Izaguirre, Director
New York Film Festival, Kent Jones, Director
Sydney Film Festival, Nashen Moodley, Festival Director
Taiwan International Documentary Festival, Wood Lin, Program Director
The Association of Documentary Filmakers of Chile, Amalric de Pontcharra
Torino Film Festival, Emanuela Martini, Director
Tromsø International Film Festival, Martha Otte, Festival Director
Tokyo Filmex, Shozo Ichiyama, Program Director
True/False Film Fest, Paul Sturtz and David Wilson, co-directors
Visions du Réel, Luciano Barisone, Director

 

Chinese LGBT Film Activist Fan Popo Makes “40 Under 40″ List by Advocate Magazine

August 26th, 2014
Fan Popo (photo: Advocate)

Fan Popo (photo: Advocate)

Congratuations to Fan Popo, a young filmmaker, social activist and director of the Beijing Queer Film Festival, for being selected as one of Advocate Magazine’s “40 Under 40 Emerging Voices” in LGBT culture and activism.

From the Advocate profile of Fan, written by Daniel Reynolds:

“Film can change people’s minds,” says the 20-something filmmaker, who learned the art of moviemaking at the Beijing Film Academy and is also the author of Happy Together: Complete Record of 100 Queer Films, which has drawn comparisons to Vito Russo’s LGBT cinema manifesto, The Celluloid Closet. To date, Fan has created several documentaries that have advocated for LGBT rights in China, including The Chinese Closet, which tells young people’s stories of coming out to their parents, and Only Love, which examines the lives of transgender people in southern China.

Read the full profile of Fan Popo at Advocate.

New Film Offers New Perspective on Tibet

August 25th, 2014
Zanta and her son Yang Qing. Photo: Jocelyn Ford

Zanta and her son Yang Qing. Photo: Jocelyn Ford

In Forbes, Eric Meyer profiles Jocelyn Ford, director of the new documentary Nowhere To Call Home, which chronicles Ford’s own complicated relationship with Zanta, a Tibetan widow who flees to Beijing to give her son a better life. The film had its world premiere at the Museum of Modern Art as part of its current series “Lens on Tibet.”

Ford, a Beijing-based journalist, met Zanta while the latter was peddling on a Beijing street to raise money for her son. Intrigued by the woman’s story, Ford spent three years filming with Zanta and her son and eventually paid the son’s school fees while helping Zanta stand up to her family members in Tibet who opposed her choice to live and work in Beijing.

 

Meyer discusses the ethical considerations surrounding the film and its director:

Ford faces her own moral dilemma, and she is not shy about exposing this in her film. On the one hand, the foreign journalist is self-serving. She wants to get an inside story about the life of a traditional Tibetan in contemporary China, something the regime in Beijing tries to hide by largely banning foreign correspondents from travelling to Tibetan regions. Ultimately it is the injustices suffered by Zanta, both in Beijing and in her village, that drag the journalist deep into Zanta’s life. It is an infringement of rules for reporters to interfere with the lives of their subjects. Yet, Ford deftly turns this around on the audience. Had she not violated this rule, the world would be less informed about the hardship of Tibetan women like Zanta, and, as a journalist, she would have been more complicit with Chinese censors.

Nowhere To Call Home has also received coverage in the New York Times and South China Morning Post. Writing for the Times, Ian Johnson commends the film:

The film breaks down the sometimes romantic Shangri-La view that Westerners have of Tibet, showing it to be a place with many hidebound traditions, especially discrimination against women. It also offers a shocking portrait of the outright racism that Zanta and other Tibetans face in Chinese parts of the country. And it shows how many members of minorities lack even basic education: Zanta’s sisters are illiterate, unable to count their change in the market or recognize the numbers on a cellphone.

The film screens again at MoMA August 29.

 

Beijing Independent Film Festival Shut Down by Authorities

August 24th, 2014
Chinese security guards stand on duty near a police car at a junction leading to the venue for the Beijing Independent Film Festival in Beijing Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014. (photo: Ng Han Guan, AP)

Chinese security guards stand on duty near a police car at a junction leading to the venue for the Beijing Independent Film Festival in Beijing Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014. (photo: Ng Han Guan, AP)

The Associated Press reports that the Beijing Independent Film Festival has been shut down by Chinese authorities:

Chinese authorities blocked an annual independent film festival from opening Saturday, seizing documents and films from organizers and hauling away two event officials in a sign that Beijing is stepping up its already tight ideological controls.

Li Xianting, a film critic and founder of the Li Xianting Film Fund, the organizer of the Beijing Independent Film Festival, said police searched his office and confiscated materials he had gathered over more than 10 years. Li and the festival’s artistic director, Wang Hongwei, were detained by police Saturday night but later released, according to their supporters.

The festival, which began in 2006, has seen severe police obstruction over the past few years, but this year’s crackdown is far more serious, Wang said.

“In the past few years, when they forced us to cancel the festival, we just moved it to other places, or delayed the screenings,” he said. “But this year, we cannot carry on with the festival. It is completely forbidden.”

Read the full report from Didi Tang at the Associated Press.

11th Beijing Independent Film Festival announces program

August 21st, 2014

The 11th Beijing Independent Film Festival will be held from August 23 to 31,2014, in Li Xianting’s Film Fund. There are 76 films will be screened in this film festival, which include documentary, fiction and experimental film selections. Besides, this year, we also have foreign film sections, which include: Sad Republic – A selection of New Filipino Films, Special section of Japanese Films, and Five Feelings – International Video Art Experience.

The festival will give out the following different awards:
?Documentary Competition?: An Independent Sprit Award, a Jury Prize, and an Excellent Documentary Award
?Fiction? (including short films and animations): Two Best Fictions of the Year Awards
?Experimental Films?(including contemporary arts): Two Experimental Creativity Awards

Complete program listings after the break.

Read the rest of this entry »

Two Week Tibetan Film Series Starts Today at MoMA

August 20th, 2014
Yartsa Rinpoche (Precious Caterpillar), directed by Dorje Tsering Chenaktsang. (Courtesy of Chenaktsang and Trace Foundation)

Yartsa Rinpoche (Precious Caterpillar), directed by Dorje Tsering Chenaktsang. (Courtesy of Chenaktsang and Trace Foundation)

The Museum of Modern Art, in partnership with the Trace Foundation, begins a 12-film series of films from Tibet from today until August 31. The series will include talks with several of the films directors, including a roundtable discussion and opening reception today from 6-8pm. Details can be found at the Trace Foundation website.

From the MOMA press release:

Lens on Tibet includes the world premiere of Tashi Chopel’s The Son of a Herder (2014), an unembellished portrait of the life of a plateau herder in eastern Tibet’s remote Zehok region. The film highlights an existence caught between ideals and reality, modernity and tradition, and individual choices. Yartsa Rinpoche (Precious Caterpillar) (2013), directed by Dorje Tsering Chenaktsang, follows Darlo, an elder in the Amdo region, and his family as they journey 800 kilometers to collect Cordyceps sinensis (in Tibetan, Yartsa-gunbu), which has been called “Tibet’s golden worm” and “The Viagra of the Himalayas.” Yartsa Rinpoche—which is presented in a weeklong run—receives its North American premiere along with Jocelyn Ford’s breakout Nowhere to Call Home (2014), Dan Smyer Yu’s Embrace (2011), Khashem  Gyal’s The Valley of the Heroes (2013), and Dukar Tserang’s They Are One Hundred Years Old (2014).

Lens on Tibet is organized by Sally Berger, Assistant Curator, Department of Film; and Paola Vanzo, Director of Communications and Development, and Kristina Dy-Liacco, Librarian, Trace Foundation. Presented as part of MoMA’s ContemporAsian series.