“Nothing About Cinema, Everything About Freedom” by Ying Liang

Ying Liang has issued the following statement regarding his film When Night Falls and the recent police threats made to him and his family regarding the film. The Chinese version of the statement can be seen here.

 

Nothing about Cinema, Everything about Freedom

A Statement from Ying Liang

I’m experiencing quite a unique campaign for “film marketing”: every time when I finish a new film, I’d send some film stills and relevant materials to the media. But this time, what is in focus here is not the film itself. Most interview requests are not from the film-related media. It’s not that I don’t want to talk about other topics, but that the attention now is not directed to the quality of my new work.

For a filmmaker, the fact that the film has become a topic as such can’t be more embarrassing and unfortunate. What I have experienced and what I envision will happen in the future have made me to accept such a fact: “JUST CINEMA”, which indicates on the one hand that the power of cinema shouldn’t be over-evaluated, and on the other hand, cinema could achieve everything. I cannot totally agree with the latter opinion about the importance of cinema—- at least I don’t “simply”, “solely” or “absolutely” believe in such a statement. But there are people who insist that films could be so important that they would do everything to prove and guard this claim via public power and public instrument, which corners me, a negligible filmmaker, to a political or politicized predicament.

When receiving the invitation from the Jeonju Digital Project (JDP) by Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF), I was experiencing my bottleneck period. For more than two years I haven’t shot any new work. The JDP has given me the chance to relish in the freedom and joy in filmmaking again. In recent eight and nine years, I have altogether shot four features and several short films, ending up getting lost in the search for motivations. Every time upon finishing shooting a new story, I’d be soon taught a lesson by actual events in life, of which the degree of absurdity, cruelty and sense of black humor usually exceed that of film stories, and they are way beyond our imagination too.

At the same time, I have come to the realization that a film made purely out of personal interest and likes could do nothing to help friends around me, and it may even push them to a worsened condition—–in this way, I’ve been cast spell by both cinema and life. Feeling confused, I have to stop and grope for an answer. “When Night Falls” tells the story about the mother of a murderer. She has been kept away from the legal proceedings so that she has no idea about her son’s death penalty. It’s based on a real case in 2008. It is from the perspective of a mother that I shot this film for the JDP. It turns out that the curse works again, here goes the details:

November 29, 2011

I received the invitation from Jeonju International Film Festival to participate in the Jeonju Digital Project of 2012. At that time I had already worked for 3 months as an artist in residence at the School of Film and Television, Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.

February 20, 2012

The shooting of “When Night Falls” was done, and we started to edit. The film was then scheduled to premiere at Jeonju on April 28.

February 24, 2012

Friends of mine at Hangzhou and Shanghai were approached by people sent by the National Security Bureau from Shanghai. Because of my friends’ identities as teachers and students, the Ministry of Education also intervened to inquire them.

April 7 , 2012

When calling my parents at Shanghai I learnt that there were policemen inquiring about “When Night Falls” two days ago at home. They wouldn’t believe that my parents didn’t know about it. They required that the film should not be screened and it should be re-edited, and they could compensate for my loss. They also took away the DVDs of my previous works from my parents’ home.

April 14, 2012

The post-production of “When Nights Falls” completed, and the length is 70 minutes. The screener was sent to JIFF.

April 16, 2012

My wife Peng Shan’s mother told us via QQ that the policemen from Shanghai arrived at Zigong, Sichuan Province and approached Peng’s father. Their intention was to push the families to persuade me to pull out the film from the festival or re-edit the film. And Peng’s father added via QQ that he was approached by the policemen several times, and they hope it would be made clear to me that the official believes that this film has twisted the facts about Chinese legal systems, and has hurt the feelings of Shanghai police. If the film is screened, negative international impacts would be expected, and if we don’t pull out the film, we wouldn’t end up well. If we accept their offer, the police could compensate for any loss, and in the future when I shoot film in the mainland the would support us.

The police even asked Peng Shan’s parents to take them to visit me at Hong Kong.

April 18, 2012

I received an email from my Shanghai’s families which says, “Your new film touched the nerves of Shanghai, and during the past 12 days, they visited us at home for 7 times. The public security bureau is watching you closely, and you would have difficulties crossing the borders…unless you pull out the film or change your name. They would take hard stance. You cannot come back to Mainland in the future.” My families also told me that the policemen had already read the film script.

April 19, 2012

I received several unidentified calls, and once it was connected, the caller would not directly speak to me but would hand the phone to my mother. My mother would try to persuade me not to show the film or re-edit it. I reminded them that the new film has nothing to do with my parents and the policeman should directly approach me. At night, there was someone who claimed that he was sent by the Office of the Foreign Affairs of Shanghai Municipality calling me, and they hoped that on the second day I would be able to meet their “cadre” at the Saiwan area of Hong Kong Island. I replied that they approached me in such a hurry that we should just meet near my university. They agreed after discussion among themselves.

April 20, 2012

At 10 am at the Chifu Plaza near Pokfulam Village I met up with the two sent by the socalled “the Office of the Foreign Affairs of Shanghai Municipality”. One of them calls himself Director Zhang, and another is Xiaochen. Their accusation had two parts:

1) The film has twisted the facts about the case;

2) The film has offended the feelings and rights of the people involved.

My response:

1) I will consult with the lawyers about the legal issues;

2) The copyright of my film belongs to JIFF, and you should approach them;

3) As the director of the film, I don’t want to pull out my film or re-edit it.

That afternoon my wife consulted with a rights lawyer, and they told me both charges were simply absurd.

1) If the government doesn’t believe the film is based on facts of the case, then they should make public the details of the case, and all the lawyers with professional integrity are waiting for this day to come;

2) If the film does hurt the feelings of people involved in the case, then the charges should be raised by them. And that should be a civil lawsuit which doesn’t involve arrest.

Between April 21-23, 2012

Xiaochen from “the Office of the Foreign Affairs of Shanghai Municipality” texted me and kept calling me 2-3 times per day. I picked up one phone call once and he tried again to persuade me to approach the JIFF so they wouldn’t screen the film anymore. Suffering from the harassment I blacklisted his number.

April 27, 2012

A SINA WEIBO (micro blog) user called “Ni Jiu Shi Ta” posted,”#When Night Falls# before its opening, the JIFF was threatened by the CCP official, which requested them to stop screening Ying Liang’s part in the Jeonju Digital Project. But the demand was turned down by the festival. Then the CCP offered that, they would purchase the copyright of the film with 10 billion Korean Won so the festival won’t screen the film. The festival still downed them down”.

In this message the weibo user also provided the web link from a news site of South Korea. However this post was instantly deleted at WEIBO. This user again uses the English title of the film “When Night Falls” to repost, which was finally deleted on May 13. The item of “When Night Falls” at DOUBAN.COM (web 2.0 social network site in Chinese language) was deleted (http://movie.douban.com/subject/10465114/)

April 28, 2012

“When Night Falls” was premiered at Jeonju, with around 1100 audience. One of the coordinators of the festival Ji-Hoon Jo also confirmed that there was a Korean young man who approached the city council and the festival office on behalf of a Chinese film company. He wanted to buy the copyright of the film and required them to cancel the screening. But Jo refused him.

May 5, 2012

My families sent me two emails to convey the intention of the Public Security and National Security, which says, if I return to Mainland China, I would be arrested, and there is no space for negotiation. The branch bureau could arrest me without asking for authorization from the higher levels, and my filmmaking has been filed as one of those “serious and important cases”, so it would be dealt with differently. Also the branch bureau seemed to imply that I would be OK if I give up to be a Chinese. Also, I hear from my friend that the order was given by the head of The Public Security Bureau of Shanghai Municipality. For the first time I mentioned at Facebook that my security was under threat and freedom was limited.

May 8, 2012

One of my cousins told me that when she called my mother, she sounded calm, but the call was discontinuous, so she was suspicious that the call was intercepted.

Between May 11-12, 2012

After two days’ communication with Ji-Hoon Jo via email, Ji-Hoon clarified the fact about the circulating news on the 10 billion Korean Won (50 million RMB). Ji- Hoon told me that the news was not accurate. The director of the festival at the opening ceremony mentioned, “Even if Chinese government offers us 10,000,000,000 won to buy the film, we surely will screen the film in our festival.” And it is where the misinterpretation came from. But Ji-Hoon emphasized that the proposal of purchase and the added conditions indeed existed. But they never mentioned about the price. Also the details about the “young Korean guy” are,

1)he repeatedly points out that he is not sent by the government,

2) he only knows that the film is made by Ying Liang, while having no idea about the Korean or English title of the film.

3)he claims that he has business relationship with some rich businessmen in Shanghai, who asked him to purchase the copyright at Jeonju

May 13,2012

My cousin again called my parents’ home at Shanghai, and they said they were no longer approached by the Shanghai police, and they guessed it was because the police believed I had already understood their intention. This cousin also told my parents about how I dealt with this situation by mobilizing Facebook and WEIBO, and then she sent my best regards to my mother for Mother’s Day. It was said that my parents seemed to be more relaxed, and they were from time to time laughing.

In the future with the screening of “When Night Falls” at other places, the timeline above would be constantly updated—I simply feel sad, and I am reminded of what Yang Jia said, “in a country run by these policemen, even a law abiding citizen who’s obedient for more than 20 years would be sentenced to prison ”

What I have written above has nothing to do with my filmmaking. To be honest, in these years, except love letters, I have got few chances to write about anything irrelevant to cinema. At the end of the statement, I shall protest against Shanghai police and the CCP government on the following issues:

Give back the independent filmmakers’ dignity!

Give me back the freedom for creation and speech, and also personal freedom!

Stop harassing and threatening my families and friends!

Stop all the ridiculous acts hindering the screenings of “When Night Falls” !

Make public the facts about Yang Jia’s case!

Cancel the surveillance around Yang Jia’s tomb, stop restricting Mrs. Wang Jingmei’s

freedom of speech and persona freedom!

Compensate for Mrs. Wang Jingmei’s loss and give her a reasonable explanation!

 

Ying Liang

May 14,2012 Hong Kong