Shelly Kraicer is a Beijing-based writer, critic, and film curator. Born in Toronto, Canada, and educated at Yale University, he has written film criticism in Cinema Scope, Positions, Cineaste, the Village Voice, and Screen International. Since 2007, he has been a programmer of East Asian films for the Vancouver International Film Festival, and has consulted for the Venice, Udine, Dubai, and Rotterdam International Film Festivals.
Shelly has regularly contributed informative and insightful pieces on contemporary Chinese cinema for the dGenerate blog. This time we are pleased to present a lengthier, more casual and free-flowing conversation with Shelly. The conversation touches on the current state of independent film in China, the official and unofficial systems of film production and distribution, and the relationship between Chinese films and international audiences. The interview was conducted by Christen Cornell of Art Space China.
Christen Cornell: What’s the system which allows certain films in China to be shown in commercial cinemas and others not? In other words, what is an âˆšÂ¢â€šÃ‡Â¨Ã€Ãºunauthorised’ film?
Shelly Kraicer: The classic system for feature fiction films is that there are at least two stages of censorship. One submits a summary of the film, and then when that is OKed you shoot your film, and then you submit a final cut. Then there’s typically a process of negotiation, where it’s not that the thing is banned or the thing can go through – which was the old system, and that’s still how I think a lot of, maybe Western media people who aren’t so specialised think of it. You know, like the old Soviet system? We ban; we pass.
CC: Even the word âˆšÂ¢â€šÃ‡Â¨Ã€Ãºban’, I think, is a really Western idea.
SK: Right. And it doesn’t work that way. The film bureau will typically give a list of comments and objections and, quite often, specific scenes or shots, or sometimes it can be a slightly more general objection. And then a filmmaker will get back to them with changes, plus, and/or negotiation about it, and depending on how good you are at schmoozing, you get close to your original cut or you have to do a lot of changes.
The films that the film bureau would say no to just aren’t submitted. So I guess that’s one reason there isn’t a lot of flat banning. You know independent filmmakers, filmmakers that work out of places like Song Zhuang – a film community in Beijing – most of them don’t even submit.