Since the publication of the first volume of Directory of World Cinema: China, the Chinese film industry has intensified its efforts to make inroads into the American market. The 2012 acquisition of US theater chain AMC and visual effects house Digital Domain by Chinese firms testifies to the global ambitions of China’s powerhouse film industry. Yet Chinese cinema has had few crossover hits in recent years to match the success of such earlier films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; House of Flying Daggers; and Kung Fu Hustle. Yet even overseas revenue for Chinese movies has dwindled, domestic market growth has surged year after year. Indeed, annual production output remains healthy, and the daily expansion of screens in second-or third-tier cities attracts audiences whose tastes favor domestic films over foreign imports.
A survey of a vibrantand expandingindustry, Directory of World Cinema: China 2 examines, among other themes, China’s desire for success and fulfillment in the United States, as well as the extensive history of representing Chinaand the Chinese in Americaon US movie screens. With contributions from some of the leading academics in the field, this volume will be essential reading for all fans of Chinese film.
About the Author
Gary Bettinson is a lecturer in film studies at Lancaster University in the UK, editor of the journal Asian Cinema and editor of the first volume of Directory of World Cinema: China.
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Directory of World Cinema China 2 Volume 26
By Gary Bettinson
Intellect LtdCopyright © 2015 Intellect Ltd
All rights reserved.
CHINESE FILM FESTIVAL
The very idea of 'Chinese' film festivals proves complex since China encompasses two (film-making) nation-states, each of which sees itself as the legitimate China, as well as varied linguistic and cultural traditions inside China and outside of it. Both the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (Taiwan) have their own festivals, and different Chinese film festivals and publics have conflictive goals and agendas across both. There is also an important festival in Hong Kong that is distinct in cinematic tradition, governance and regional and global audiences, while other festivals outside China showcase Chinese productions in distinct fashions. Even though Chinese film festivals have a short history of only half a century, the evolution that these different Chinas have undergone in this time has produced a film festival landscape that embodies the twists and turns of myriad relationships amongst the festivals and the films, peoples and ideas they represent. Moreover, while not a topic of this essay, it is important to recognize that Chinese cinema participation in film festivals inside and outside China has further contributed to vibrant dialogues that affect Chinese cinematic and cultural practices because contemporary films and festivals are embedded in a global system. Thus, this essay provides an initial road map to understand this complicated landscape and to show how analysis of these competing film festivals deepens our understanding of contemporary global China.
The most showy film festivals in the PRC are the FIAPF (Fédération Internationale des Associations de Producteurs de Films)-accredited Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF, founded 1993) and the Beijing International Film Festival (BJIFF, 2011). Both are official, relatively big- budgeted events (dianyingjie). Taiwan created the Golden Horse Film Award in 1962, but this has represented more of an award for its industry than a film festival per se like that of Taipei (founded 1999). Ironically, the oldest, most established Chinese film festival, however, is the Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF), which started in the British Crown colony in 1977 and has built a solid reputation as a powerhouse in the promotion of local, Greater Chinese and Asian cinema.
Equally important in the PRC, nonetheless, are the underground film festivals; although not officially sanctioned, they represent significant and contentious forces within the Chinese film and global landscape. Finally, it is important to consider film festivals dedicated to Chinese cinema outside Chinese areas, in addition to special sections devoted to Chinese productions in many international festivals. From the cinephilic Festival des Trois Continents in Nantes, France, and the London Chinese Visual Festival to events organized by Chinese entities such as London's China Image Film Festival and diasporic Chinese film festivals such as the Asian American Film Festival in North America, diverse Chinese film festivals express their versions and visions of China in competition with one another, demanding legitimacy on different levels while creating a lens for understanding the global movement of Chinese cinematic practices.
Official Films: Government Sanctioned Film Festivals in the PRC
Film festivals (dianyingjie) were not introduced in the People's Republic of China (PRC) until the early 1990s, and, from the very beginning, all of them have been state-sanctioned/supported. According to Ma Ran, China's copying of foreign film festivals was to a great extent propelled by the then powerful Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping's Southern Tour and his policy-making speech in 1992, which signalled approved marketization and commercialization of culture. Ma asserts that this movement is directly related to the reform of the Chinese film industry and policy revisions since 1993 (Ma 2012).
Established in 1993, SIFF is the only 'A' festival1 in Greater China, the flagship film festivals of PRC primarily supported by the local authorities and industries. Besides Shanghai, the north-eastern city of Changchun and coastal Zhuhai also kicked off their film festivals in 1992 and 1994, respectively. However, none of these early state- run film festivals has had the momentum of Shanghai, which has become the premier hub for Chinese global business as well.
Only in 2011 did a significant rival to the Shanghai festival emerge, the staterun Beijing International Film Festival, reflecting the capital's primary role in contemporary media, and it has since gained worldwide attention. Former president Hu Jintao emphasized the importance of Chinese culture and the cultural industries 'as part of the soft power of our country to better guarantee the people's basic cultural rights and interests'. These government-sanctioned film festivals respond to this state goal, albeit for divergent constituencies.
Western critics, nonetheless, have criticized both the SIFF and, to a lesser extent, the BJIFF as not quite up to the standard of international film festivals in their selection of films and use of celebrities. The 2007 SIFF, for example, had Sharon Stone walk the red carpet, even though it screened none of her films. According to film historian Chris Berry, the SIFF was addressing the local Chinese population and audience rather than the international critics. The SIFF is more a showcase for the Chinese to see themselves as ascending to the global stage than an event that follows the general contours and expectations of the western-oriented international film festival circuit.
Some additional small official festivals have been created as attractions by the Chinese government, such as the Ya'an Panda Film Festival (http://www.film-yaan.com/yaanen/) and the World Mountain Documentary Festival in Qinghai (http://en.sctvf.com.cn/_d274549253.htm). Both highlight the iconic tourist features of these areas rather than engage wider cinematic dialogues.
Grassroots/Independent Film Festivals in the PRC
Yet, off the map of state-defined creativity, since the early 2000s, grassroots-level independent film festivals also have emerged in culturally vibrant cities such as Kunming (Yunnan Multi Culture Visual Festival, documentary biennale), Nanjing (China Independent Film Festival) and Beijing (China Documentary Film Festival; Beijing Independent Film Festival), greatly powered by the booming local cinephile cultures. These festivals have used the Chinese term dianyingzhan, equivalent to those of 'forum' or 'exchange week', since a dianyingjie has to be approved by the government. They have attracted cinephiles, film scholars, critics, journalists and even buyers worldwide, since their programming promises an updated and exciting vision of contemporary Chinese films, with proportionally larger number of independent works screened. Many western film festivals, in fact, have looked towards these festivals to locate Chinese films for their programmes. Many are also community based: YunFest, for example, was originally organized in 2003 by an NGO created under the aegis of the Visual Education Department at the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences. One of its primary aims is to encourage the diverse communities in Yunnan to document their lives. Other than these general independent festivals, Beijing also has hosted a Queer Film Festival since 2001, although it was forced off the Beijing University campus in 2002 and closed completely for the year in 2011.
Even though many of these festivals have existed relatively quietly without much government interference, in the last two years, the government has taken a harsher approach. The Chinese Independent Film Festival, held annually in Nanjing since 2003, was severely curtailed in 2012: there was no real festival, so jury members watched the films on their own and awarded the prizes in their own mini-ceremony (Anon. n.d.). In Beijing, the authorities cut the electricity of the Beijing Independent Film Festival in 2013 around screenings critical of cancer in Chinese villages, as well as a film by activist Ai Weiwei, forcing the organizers and audience to find other private places for screenings; YunFest was completely closed by authorities in 2012 (Anon. 2013). On the other hand, the Beijing Queer Film Festival, despite problems in the past, met no government interference in 2013.
Film Festivals in Taiwan
In Taiwan (the Republic of China), there are all different kinds of film festivals; however, few have gained international stature, embodying the complex status of Taiwan as an economic power of complicated political claims. Hence, the Golden Horse Film Awards started in 1962 to promote Chinese films, and functioned as an ROC Oscars that spoke to regional and global audiences (and since 1996 has included films from the PRC; Hong Kong films have won many awards and are screened in the month before the award ceremony). The Taipei Film Festival was only established in 1998 and initially bruited the strength of Taiwanese auteurs like Hou Hsiao-hsien, Tsai Ming-liang and Ang Lee as well as promoting newer works.
Like many liberal democracies, Taiwan also has many alternative film festivals. The Taiwan International Women Make Waves Film Festival actually began in 1993 and travels around the island addressing issues of feminism and gender diversity (www.wmw.com.tw/en/about.php?It=11). The biennial Taiwan International Documentary Festival (TIDF) was established in 1998. The Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival, established in 2001, is the first ethnographic film festival in Asia. Beyond the capital, the Kaohsiung Film Festival started 2011, with an emphasis on short films, and the Taoyuan Film Festival was launched in 2013 to attract film-makers to Taoyuan, just outside Taipei, for film production. Festivals in Taiwan have not enjoyed international recognition, partly because its film industry is relatively small, and despite Taiwanese auteurs like Hou Hsiao-hsien, Edward Yang and Tsai Ming-liang, who gained international recognition in the European A festivals, the Taiwanese industry could not compete with the powerful Hong Kong production in the 1990s. With the rise of the PRC, in turn, it has become increasingly difficult for Taiwan to attract international attention to its competitions or to distinguish its works abroad (the HKIFF, for example, labels films as Mandarin [ROC] or Putonghua [PRC], although other languages, including Hong Kong's Cantonese, undercut simple political identities).
Film Festivals in Hong Kong
The Hong Kong International Film Festival emerged in 1977, when Hong Kong was still a British crown colony. The festival was never a primary concern of the colonial government, which treated it as bread and circuses for colonial subjects. Nonetheless, the festival organizers have made a concerted effort to preserve and develop Hong Kong cinema, publishing many volumes on Hong Kong cinema of different eras and genres and fomenting the establishment of the Hong Kong Film Archive. At the same time, it has acted as a major promoter of Chinese and Asian cinemas to the world, echoing the manager/middleman role the city itself has developed within a wider Chinese context. Perhaps the most famous example was the HKIFF 1985 screening of Yellow Earth, which many have credited as a starting point of the Chinese Fifth Generation; here, the HKIFF paved the way for Chinese cinema's entry onto the international scene and has been a focus of critical and programming attention from European festivals, commentators and cinephiles. HKIFF, in fact, was the only major film festival in Asia until the establishment of the Pusan International Film Festival in South Korea in 1996.
Through the years, even after Hong Kong was returned to the PRC, the Hong Kong festival has continued to irk the Chinese censoring authorities while seeking to affirm its regional place through its film market, through its promotion of new Asian projects and through the Asian Film Awards, added to the festival calendar in 2007. It has also highlighted the global Chinese cinemas of Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and wider diasporic communities.
Other film festivals in Hong Kong include the Hong Kong Independent Film Festival, the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival and the Hong Kong Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. In addition, the city often hosts smaller festivals that promote 'national' brands like French, British and Asian American cinema. It is perhaps worthwhile to note that another 'Chinese' city-state, Singapore, also created a competing film festival in 1987 that has highlighted Chinese film within a Southeast Asian context and Singaporean ethnic pluralism.
Chinese Film Festivals outside China
There are few continuously running western festivals solely devoted to Chinese cinema; however, sections and retrospectives on related topics may be found in many major festivals including Locarno and Rotterdam, which has often championed Chinese independent film. Other events concentrate on cinema of the South and/or Asian Cinema, including the Festival des Trois Continents in Nantes (France, founded 1979), the Fribourg International Film Festival (Switzerland, 1987) and the Far East Film Festival in Udine (Italy), founded in 1999 to promote popular Asian Films. These festivals bring 'foreign' films to primarily European audiences. Many Chinese art films have been shown in these festivals; however, the interesting question to ask about this relationship is how Chinese films have been perceived in the west and why they tend to be lumped together with cinema from Latin America and Africa. This relationship, of course, is now changing as the PRC has become the second economy in the world.
By contrast, Chinese emigrants who have settled in North America have launched their own film festivals, such as the Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF) in New York, inaugurated in 1978. It was started by a New York Chinatown media organization, CCTV (Chinese Cable TV), in a loft rented by future Hong Kong film-maker Tsui Hark, who had been studying experimental theatre in New York in 1975. Other Chinese American as well as recent Chinese immigrant media artists joined CCTV to create a community media organization. CCTV changed its name to Asian Cinevision and soon started the AAIFF; many similar Asian American film festivals in different cities followed. These diasporic Chinese film festivals have less to do with China and more to do with their local communities and, in this case, North America, although they may screen Chinese and transnational films.
One further contrasting type of overseas Chinese film festival is represented by China-sponsored Chinese film festivals abroad, festivals such as the Golden Koala Chinese Film Festival (Sydney), the China Image Film Festival (London), the New York Chinese Film Festival, the Festival du Cinema Chinois du Paris, Cristal Rouge Festival du Film Chinois (Strasbourg) and the Chinese Film Festival Cologne. These festivals have very clear connections with the PRC; they all originated less than ten years ago. Many of them were initially announced in China and they primarily screen mainstream Chinese movies. Some of them boast that unlike other film festivals that only show Chinese films which Chinese audiences never get to see, they offer films that are available to 'regular' audiences in China. All of them are relatively small and do not get a great deal of press coverage locally; however, they get coverage from the official Chinese press, for example the China Daily newspaper. This type of Chinese film festival seems to be used to cement better relationships between China and these overseas places, mostly on the municipal levels, and embody a deliberate effort by the PRC to show the world the 'new China', a form of transnational diplomacy through film, with business opportunities.
Chinese film festivals embody the changing diversity of China itself as a complex arena for debate; the recent dramatic changes that the PRC has undergone produce a complicated landscape for Chinese cinema as well as Chinese film festivals. Within the PRC, the need to emulate internationally recognized film festivals led to the establishment of the Shanghai and Beijing festivals, but the control that the PRC government exerts over cinema also led to the mushrooming of independent film festival exhibition, which not only promotes the growth of grassroots cinema, but also attracts attention from abroad. Taiwan seems to stay on the margin in terms of Chinese film festivals, albeit serving its local community and promoting a strong artistic tradition. The Hong Kong festival, by contrast, has become the most renowned Asian festival and it continues to negotiate its position with the PRC, even though it is technically part of China, as well as within regional and global production, screening and markets.
Excerpted from Directory of World Cinema China 2 Volume 26 by Gary Bettinson. Copyright © 2015 Intellect Ltd. Excerpted by permission of Intellect Ltd.
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Table of Contents
Introduction by the Editor
Chinese Film Festivals
Contemporary Taiwanese Cinema
Recent Taiwanese Cinema
Early Hong Kong Cinema
Alexander Fu Sheng
Tony Leung Chiu-Wai
Jimmy Wang Yu
Directors: Mainland China
Directors: Hong Kong
Peter Chan Ho-Sun
Drama: Mainland China
Drama: Hong Kong and Taiwan
Queer Chinese Cinema
Kung-Fu and Wuxia Pian
Heroic Bloodshed and Crime Cinema
Chinese Cinema Online
Test Your Knowledge
Notes on Contributers