China Independent Film Festival Reviewed by Electric Sheep

Perfect Life (2009, dir. Emily Tang)

In the online film journal Electric Sheep, John Berra reports on the China Independent Film Festival held last October in Nanjing. He describes the festival, now in its seventh year, as a semi-secret state of affairs:

As not every film in the line-up has received the stamp of approval from the Film Bureau of the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), this celebration of Chinese cinema occurs under the political radar, and the lack of the promotion means that many students of Nanjing University are not aware that an important film festival is taking place on their campus until a few banners appear in the days leading up to the event. However, the festival organisers somehow manage to make this ‘invisible’ festival sufficiently noticeable and 2010 screenings were well-attended, leading to a series of productive Q&A sessions with the filmmakers in attendance and valuable networking events.

Berra singles out several films for praise, starting with Perfect Life, directed by Emily Tang and executive produced by Jia Zhangke:

Jia Zhangke served as the executive producer of Perfect Life, and the fusion of fact and fiction recalls his masterpieces Platform (2000) and 24 City (2008), but Tang steps out of the shadow of her financial benefactor by imbuing proceedings with an element of magical realism as the real and the imagined eventually come to co-exist.

Berra also praises Zhao Dayong’s The High Life, Zhou Hao’s Cop Shop (both directors have films distributed by dGenerate), as well as Rivers and My Father, Piercing, Single Man, Red White, On the Road and Once Upon a Time Proletarian.

Berra concludes with some thoughts on the evolving political significance of holding such a festival, and its shift from being totally “underground” to “independent,” as reflected in its “hidden in plain sight” status, and in the content of the films:

The 7th China Independent Film Festival served to emphasise that alternative production in China is very much in a state of transition, moving from an ideologically charged ‘underground’ movement to a self-sustained ‘independent’ sector. Although still politicised, the sector is not only showing signs of the formation of its own industrial networks but an awareness of how to work around the state, rather than to stubbornly work against it. This is evident in the manner in which a wider political context was absent from many of the films and documentaries in the festival, although this presumptive measure to side-step the restrictions of SARFT is also a political statement in itself.

Read the full festival report at Electric Sheep.

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