The “surprise film” which was to be screened at the Directors’ Fortnight but which was withdrawn at the last minute is the animation by Chinese director Liu Jian A portrait of the artist as a young man.
It would have been the only Chinese feature selected for this year’s Cannes Film Festival, but organizers announced last week that the late entry would not be ready in time due to ongoing pandemic restrictions in Beijing.
Produced by Yang Cheng and with a voice cast including Chinese director and Cannes regular Jia Zhangke, the film is set in an art school in the 1990s, taking a bittersweet look at youth drawn from Liu’s experiences. as an art student.
As China maintains a zero Covid policy, with shutdowns in Beijing and Shanghai, post-production facilities are among those that have closed, which may have impacted the completion of the film.
However, Liu had already fallen foul of Chinese censors in 2017 with his second animated feature, Have a good day. After its premiere at the Berlinale – as the first Chinese animated film ever selected to play in competition – the dark comedy was pulled from France’s Annecy film festival following pressure from Chinese authorities.
Producer Yang did not respond to Filterrequest for comment.
China almost absent from Cannes
China is represented by only a few short films in the official selection and in the parallel sections of Cannes this year. There was a small presence last year, when there were no titles in Competition but that of Wei Shujun ripples of life created at the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs and at Na Jiazuo Streetwise played in Un Certain Regard.
Beijing-based sales company Rediance handled ripples of life as well as Zhao Liao’s documentary I am really sorrywho played in Special sessions. “Censorship is a long and complicated process,” said Xie Meng, CEO of Rediance. “When a film is finished, it must apply for a certain number of permits before it can be shown abroad.
“By the time the festival invitation drops, the lead time leading up to the premiere is extremely short. Now there are more hurdles that we have to overcome, which makes the whole process longer and more difficult. Time is always an issue. If official censorship is not fully lifted in time, it will end up like A second.”
A second is the Chinese drama, set during the Cultural Revolution and directed by Zhang Yimou, which was selected for the Berlinale in 2019 but withdrew from the Competition just four days before its world premiere. The same year also saw the withdrawal from the Chinese set of Hong Kong director Derek Tsang. Better days from the Generation section of the Berlinale.
“There is tighter control over film production and festival distribution at various points in the Chinese cinema food chain,” said Toronto-based film programmer Shelly Kraicer, who has lived in Beijing for more than a decade. ‘a decade. “It’s harder, if not impossible, to get approval for anything controversial. Even things that would have been completely harmless to the authorities a decade ago are now strictly prohibited.
Apart from the censorship system, he added, “The gray areas that once existed that encouraged purely or semi-independent style Chinese art cinema have been systematically closed down. The Chinese government no longer tolerates these “not-quite-forbidden-but-not-quite-allowed” gray areas, within which interesting cinema could flourish in a limited way in China.
For three consecutive years, independent Chinese films have won Tiger Awards at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR): Zhu Shengze’s Perfect tense in 2018; At Cai Chengjie The Widow Witch in 2019; and Zhenglu Xinyuan The cloud in his room in 2020. Kraicer programmed these three films jointly as curator for IFFR, until a recent mass layoff eliminated his position.
Kraicer further suggested that mid- to large-budget Chinese films no longer need foreign festivals. “China has evolved, since pre-Covid at least, towards a self-sufficient system combining local festivals, awards, marketing, promotion and ticket sales,” he said. “In fact, there is a negative incentive to premiere outdoors, given the film office’s unpredictable control over foreign festival screenings.”
The pandemic has undoubtedly caused production delays, but has also influenced the mindset of the filmmakers. “Given the strict travel restrictions, Chinese filmmakers and actors cannot attend international events, and the same goes for Chinese media. They won’t get the kind of hype and media coverage they used to get before Covid,” said Rediance’s Xie.
This partly explains why some Chinese filmmakers have chosen to premiere locally at Shanghai or Beijing film festivals, which may even generate more publicity than overseas. This is also in line with a more localized orientation set by Chinese authorities, which aims to raise the profile of local events, moving away from foreign approval.
Once held every two years, China’s Golden Rooster Awards became an annual event starting in 2019 when Beijing began boycotting Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards, and last year a Best Foreign Language Film category was introduced. added to its list of all-Chinese nominees. The Oscars have also been downplayed, with no broadcast in China for two years.
At Cannes this year, Rediance represents the short film by Argentinian director Maria Silvia Esteve The spiral at the Directors’ Fortnight. It’s part of the Chinese company’s ongoing efforts to diversify its portfolio, having co-produced Apichaptong Weerasethakul Memory and that of Anthony Chen wet season.