10th China Independent Film Festival
(Chinese Translation: Jingjing Xie 译：谢晶晶)
The China Independent Film Festival (CIFF), which recently held its 10th edition, is more than a festival, for two very important reasons. Firstly, the very fact that it was able to operate this year is a triumph in itself, having been shut down by the authorities last year at the last moment. Though it’s not an event which goes out of its way to court controversy or make political statements, many of the films screened have not received official approval from the Film Bureau of the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), and many deal with topics which might not be considered suitable, including crime, bullying and social disorder.
Perhaps as a result, despite the festival attracting some very impressive guest directors, in terms of publicity it’s a low-key affair, not widely advertised, even on the campus of Nanjing University of the Arts, where a flagship three day session was held – other events were also held in Dalian and Xiamen. Despite this, it was great to see the screenings in Nanjing being very well attended, most sessions pulling in more than fifty audience members, and many closer to a hundred. As such, the very fact of its continued existence and popularity in the face of such troubles, not to mention the difficulty of funding or finding sponsors for such a festival in China represents effort and passion that’s praiseworthy indeed.
Secondly, CIFF offers a fascinating snapshot of the development of independent film making in China. ‘Independent’ is a word with many meanings, especially in a cinematic context, and while the indie scene is undoubtedly growing and maturing in China, it’s running into complications and difficulties. Although Chinese indie films are enjoying an increasingly healthy presence and haul of awards at overseas festivals, these tend to be limited to a certain number of already established directors, who have previously received some manner of official recognition back home. For first time or upcoming directors, and those who have not submitted their films to SARFT, it’s considerably more difficult, as sending their unapproved works to foreign festivals can result in serious repercussions, or even bans.
As a result, there’s a challenge to define what truly counts as ‘independent’ in Chinese cinema, and even more of a challenge for directors who try to work outside the system – funding, producing, releasing and screening films off the grid being no mean feat, directors often having to self-finance and commit to great personal sacrifice.
In this context, it was particularly pleasing to see such a variety of different types of films at CIFF this year, with a fascinating selection being screened at the Nanjing event. The festival has an aim of advocating creative freedom, artistic exploration and social responsibility, and it lived up to this by screening films that dealt not only with socially minded topics, but also with love, relationships and the changing of traditions in China.
The ‘independent’ banner covered a range of genres and techniques, from comedy to thriller, through to more art house works, and from commercially minded productions to the experimental, several films pushing what audiences might traditionally understand by the notion of film, as opposed to art. With films screened not only from the Mainland, but also from Hong Kong and Taiwan, the festival gave an overall impression of Chinese language speaking societies being in a state of flux, modernity and its shockwaves ringing in the changes both loudly and quietly, expressed by the directors in numerous ways.
Sadly, I wasn’t able to catch all of the screenings, though what follows is a recap of the films and shorts I was fortunate enough to see.