I asked the directors whose films we are showing to comment on the situation of independent cinema in China, and how they see their film work in that context. Here is a selection of their comments (translations are my own).
Resolve in political matters, no matter if it’s on the left, the centre, or the right, commands people’s respect. But business interests cloaked in the guise of ideology are engaged in suppressing BIFF. This act is an insult to the concept of “ideology”. It makes one suspicious of most of China’s so-called questions of political idealism, which are in fact merely boring, pragmatic economic disputes. The force that suppresses unofficial images is undergoing a transformation: from political to commercial. Will this process even cheapen the spirit of independence itself?
-Zhong Su (Perfect Conjugal Bliss)
I believe that the “unsuccessful” film festivals that occurred in Songzhuang from 2011 to now are in fact authentic film festivals. This kind of film festival is rare in the entire world — a festival that is not afraid of resistance, a festival that struggles for freedom.
-Wang Wo (A Filmless Festival)
Can a government wipe out the existence of those young women [depicted in Egg and Stone] who have been sexually harassed? Precisely because the government continually seeks to obliterate these sorts of things, we therefore must not sing happy songs and put on a good show. We have to use film to record the existence of that which is obliterated and ignored.
-Huang Ji (Egg and Stone)
Showing a film [at an independent film festival in China] requires you to proceed with even greater caution than you would while having a secret love affair. It’s almost as if we’ve already gone to sleep with “other men’s” wives. I think that what they have done is an event with special Chinese characteristics. I try to understand it as a form of performance art.
I believe that making independent films allows me to alleviate the boredom of my life, to do a little less sexual fantasizing.
Our Chairman just recently convened a forum on art and literature, in which he clearly indicated the direction art should follow. So we hardly need to think that much any more before we shoot our art films.
-Wang Xiaozhen (Around That Winter)
When I was a writer, “independence” was not a problem at all. It stems from a completely natural kind of individual reflection, from self-expression, and from individualized behaviour. As far as a work of art is concerned, the writer’s will is even more real and appropriate. “Independence”, on the other hand, is separate from the creator, and can be spotted in the “writer’s spirit”.
-Zhang Yipin (How)
Sometimes I shoot films just so I can hear my inner voice. But in China doing this may not be “permitted”. Therefore, many artists will censor themselves. It’s a question of making a choice. I absolutely need Chinese audiences to see my films, because I shoot stories that this land itself gives rise to. I believe that winning the recognition of a Chinese film festival is even more important. In practical terms, however, foreign film festivals can be even more decisive for the success of a Chinese independent director. This is a contradiction.
-Yang Pingdao (The River of Life)
BIFF is the most stimulating film festival in the world. As far as I’m concerned, there is nowhere else our physical safety would be threatened and property rights violated merely because we’re watching films together. During the last few years of BIFF, you could feel the absurdity of China, and feel the government’s incessant fear.
Chinese audiences are great: they know how to use their minds. But the number of people is small. The Chinese are a people who lack a certain attitude, a people who lack judgement and even love. On the other hand, I won’t make a special effort to pander to Western audiences. I don’t even understand why they are willing to watch superficial, or you could say symbolic, accounts of Chinese misery.
But exchange allows us to progress together. Cinema allows me to bid farewell to mediocre “happiness”. In the middle of enormous falsehood, I am not capable of fooling myself into thinking that life is beautiful. My films are honest, and they handle truth in the same way.
-Yang Mingming (Female Directors)
I am empowered by my films to uncover the vibrant nature of the world.
-Bai Bin (The Hunter and the Skeleton; An Apple Tree)
I have a physiological and psychological need to shoot independent films.
The current atmosphere for creating art films and independent films in China is quite good, and there are a great number of possible topics. I don’t tell stories anymore, and hope that my works, like our lives, embody a great deal of trouble and anger.
I don’t believe that the goal of my work is to attend large international film festivals. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve already given up the possibility of distribution and profit, at least for the moment.
-Xu Ruotao (Yumen)
I believe that seeing is the beginning of change. I hope that my documentaries provide people with food for thought. Start from changing a prejudice, and you could end up even changing an entire world.
My documentaries depict the lowest rungs of Chinese society, the situation of people leading vagrant lives. Because they are prostitutes, petty thieves, or wandering performers, they might appear beneath mention. But their extremely tragic condition and their stories, combining feelings of grief and joy, compel people to reflect on the injustice and coarseness of our society. We have no choice but to face squarely the evil that originates in the depths of human nature.
-Xu Tong (Cut Out the Eyes)
The beauty of independent cinema lies in its independence. The opposite of this independence is a media controlled by a propaganda mechanism under centralized command. Independence, exploration, and discovery grant you freedom.
-Hu Jie (Spark)
The best and most suitable audience for Chinese independent films is certainly my fellow Chinese. It’s regrettable that, since festivals in China are restricted, the opportunity for cinematic works and local audiences to encounter each other is so small.
-Cong Feng (Stratum 1: The Visitors)
I would definitely like to show my films to more Chinese audiences. I think the Chinese audience, especially the younger generation, are more open to foreign films, art films or alternative cinema. They are ready to see works that are not conventional, films that are simply different from mainstream movies. I always try to make my films authentic and faithful to the site/place/environment where they were filmed, and I greatly value the feedback from Chinese audiences, since I believe they share many concerns that are similar to mine.
-Luo Li (Emperor Visits the Hell)