Leading Chinese film festival comes to Newcastle

A leading Chinese film festival which has been dogged by Government interference is now to take place on Tyneside

A still from Old Dog by Tibetan filmmaker Pema Tseden
A still from Old Dog by Tibetan filmmaker Pema Tseden

A leading Chinese film festival which has been dogged by Government interference is now to take place on Tyneside.

The China Independent Film Festival, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, is taking place outside China for the first time with a series of showings in Newcastle later this month followed by similar events in Nottingham and London.

Newcastle University’s Dr Sabrina Qiong Yu, who is co-organiser of the festival, says the aim is to deliver a more realistic picture of China, which is currently difficult to achieve from either the media or mainstream Chinese blockbusters.

Audiences will get a rare glimpse into contemporary China through some of the best independent documentaries, fictions and animations from the past decade.

Dr Yu said: “We’ve been very careful with our film choices, avoiding being overly political because that’s what people expect.

“Most independent films about China are not political or controversial - they are simply about local people’s lives and yet they’re not allowed to be shown there.

“These filmmakers are not dissidents. They just want to bring about a more balanced perspective of China by showing all aspects of life as they see it – both positive and negative.”

Independent filmmakers have a difficult time making a living in China. It is an often dangerous occupation, and unless their film passes China’s strict censorship laws and is not deemed a “sensitive topic” – which can cover anything from homosexuality to unemployment – then it will not get permission to be shown anywhere in the country.

As there is no financial support available, most are self-funded through friends and filmmakers and rarely make any money. Among the films being shown will be the 2007 documentary Bing’Ai about the Three Gorges Dam project that uprooted millions of people, including those from Dr Yu’s hometown of Wanzhou.

The leading Tibetan filmmaker Pema Tseden will open the festival in Newcastle with his film Old Dog.

He will also discuss making his film, as will Feng Yan, who is also holding a masterclass at Northern Stage, where she will talk about her own experience as one of the most prominent female documentary filmmakers in contemporary China.

Some of Newcastle University’s own filmmakers, including BAFTA award nominee Dr Tina Ghavari and award-winning Dr Ian McDonald, will be chairing Q&A sessions after Bing’Ai and Old Dog.

Other films being shown during the festival in Newcastle, which runs from May 12-15, include No.89 Shimen Road, which is about the Tiananmen Square student demonstrations, and Madame, which is about a drag queen. “China is so big and complicated it can’t change overnight,” says Dr Yu.

“There are positives and negatives within Chinese society and these films show there is still hope for the future, and that it comes from the ordinary people. These indie films may not be as artistic or as high-quality as blockbusters for obvious reasons, but their message will last a thousand times longer.”

The event is organised by the China Independent Film Festival and Newcastle University, in partnership with the University of Nottingham and the China Visual Festival. All the events, most of which take place at the university Culture Lab, are free of charge. For more information and to book a place, visit ciffuk10.weebly.com

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