Chinese Filmmakers’ Recent Challenges with Censorship

Dan Edwards reports in Crikey on the recent challenges faced by Chinese filmmakers in dealing with censorship both at home and abroad:

As several Chinese filmmakers have recently found, alleged offences are often unclear and punitive restrictions can be imposed without notice or warning.

Chinese documentary maker Hu Jie, for example, was prevented from leaving China last month. As recently as late last year, he was able to visit the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, which mainland Chinese need a permit to enter. However, when he applied for a visa to attend a screening of one of his films at Nepal’s Film Southasia festival, mysterious obstacles appeared in his path.

Feature film director Ying Liang has the opposite problem to Hu Jie. He has been threatened with arrest if he sets foot back in mainland China. The threat is the result of his drama When Night Falls, unveiled at South Korea’s Jeonju International Film Festival on April 28.

Although the very existence of independent cinema challenges the Communist Party’s control of public discourse, many works avoid sensitive topics or overt criticism. Films that do question the CCP’s version of history, or highlight abuses of power, are frequently targeted for suppression. Hu Jie’s historical documentaries, and Ying Liang’s drama about the Yang Jia case, fall into these categories.

Alongside independent filmmaking, a vibrant alternative screening culture showing this work has grown up in major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Attitudes towards this unofficial screening culture, based on digital projections in informal spaces such as cafes and galleries, also appear to be hardening.

On August 18, the opening film of the Beijing Independent Film Festival was interrupted by a mysterious power cut. Last year’s festival was also disrupted by authorities.

Therein lies the difficulty for China’s independent film culture. Existing in a legal grey zone, the sector has no legal recourse when security forces arbitrarily intervene in its activities. Authorities frequently deny they are taking action, even as they move to shut down screenings and restrict the movement of filmmakers. Exactly who makes these decisions and who carries them out is also often unclear.

Read the full article by Dan Edwards.
Video reports from the Beijing Independent Film Festival can be viewed here and here. Hu Jie’s public statement sent to Film Southasia after he was prevented from leaving China can be read here.

Ying Liang’s public statement regarding his threatened arrest if he returns to mainland China can be readhere.

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