Report on How Documentaries are Controlled in China

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.