Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Newsbites: Lu Qing Sees Ai Weiwei, Documentary Festival Cancelled & No Tang Wei for Mao

Ai Weiwei missing poster. Photo: stunned

This relocation business takes a lot of time! But I'm pleased to report I'm now reasonably settled in Melbourne and getting stuck in to my doctorate on China's independent documentary movement. Which means I can finally get back to some blogging. I'll shortly start rolling out some reviews of what I saw at the Hong Kong Film Festival back in March, but first a quick news update.

As noted in my last two posts, on Sunday, April 3 China's best known contemporary artist Ai Weiwei was taken from Beijing airport as he attempted to board a flight for Hong Kong. After nearly six weeks during which nothing was heard from the prominent artist, designer and filmmaker, his wife Lu Qing told international media outlets on Monday, May 16 that she had been allowed to see Ai Weiwei for around 20 minutes on May 15. The Guardian reported that Lu found Ai in “good physical health but mentally conflicted and tense.” That must have come as a  relief, following unconfirmed reports in late April that Ai had been tortured while in custody.

Although it's good to hear Ai Weiwei appears to be physically ok, it is still not clear where or why the he is being held – or when he might be released.

The general mood of tension in China shows no signs of abating, as I wrote about here for RealTime magazine earlier this month. The situation has continued to deteriorate even since that article was written. In April I blogged about my experiences trying to interview the filmmaker and academic Ai Xiaoming in Guangzhou in March. On May 13 China Human Rights Defenders reported that she continues to suffer harassment, including having the lock of her front door filled with glue and being bombarded with “silent phone calls, believed to be automated, that have disrupted her phone service.”

In more bad news for China's film community, on April 18 organisers announced the cancellation of the 8th Documentary Film Festival China, an event staged annually since 2004 in the far flung Beijing suburb of Tongzhou. The festival is one of a handful of regular events in China showcasing films made outside the country's state-controlled approval system. The 2011 edition had been planned for the first week of May. Critic and programmer for the Vancouver International Film Festival, Shelly Kraicer, reported on the dGenerate website on May 12 that, “Several levels of government, represented at a surprisingly high level, made it clear... that this was not the right time for an independent organization to screen Chinese films that the state has not authorized.” Kraicer also claimed that foreign visitors who had journeyed to Tongzhou were followed by plain-clothed police.

Meanwhile in the “official” industry actress Tang Wei may have been spared a cringe-inducing experience by the intervention of Mao Zedong's grandson Mao Xinyu. After falling from grace with mainland authorities for daring to act in a film that dramatised Chinese history in an interesting fashion (Ang Lee's Lust, Caution), the talented actress was apparently set to be “rehabilitated” by playing the Great Helmsman's early girlfriend Tao Yi in the hotly anticipated follow up to the thrilling Founding of a Republic, imaginatively entitled Founding of the Party. According to the Shanghaiist, however, Tang Wei was pulled from the production because, “The late Chairman's family did not want the controversy that surrounds Tang Wei to cast a bad light on the family name.”

The gorgeous Tang Wei and the back of Tony Leung's head in Ang Lee's Lust, Caution.

Right... your ancestor kills millions of his own countrymen – including many of his own comrades up to and including China's President – and you're worried an association with Tang Wei will cast the family in a bad light? Personally I think they did Tang Wei a favour.

Further afield, at Cannes this week Fox International announced the “creation of the annual Fox Chinese Film Development Award, which is accompanied by a first-look deal with the studio and a cash grant of HK$100,000,” according to the Hollywood Reporter. The article says, “Submissions are open to any Chinese-language project, or a project with the potential to be adapted into a Chinese-language film.” The call for entries is apparently open until October 30.

Speaking of Hollywood crashing the China party (no pun intended), the LA Times reported last week that Christopher Dodd, the new Chief Executive of the Motion Picture Association of America, will be visiting the Shanghai International Film Festival in June, “in an effort to build relations with film officials there.” Apparently Dodd has made “opening doors with China” a top priority, no doubt with the aim of encouraging Chinese compliance with last year's WTO ruling that the country has “violated international trade rules by restricting imports of foreign movies and other media." So far Chinese authorities appear to have made no moves to address the ruling, and they seems unlikely to do so their current state of cultural paranoia. Besides, with Founding of the Party due for release later this year, they have no need to import vacuous blockbusters.

Here's some good news about one of the few genuinely great commercial mainland features of recent times – Hollywood Reporter says Jiang Wen’s wonderful Let the Bullets Fly, which I wrote about here has  been sold to Japan, Australia and the UK. Which means I may get to finally see it with subtitles and glean all those plot points I missed when I saw it in Beijing.

Poster for Jiang Wen's Let the Bullets Fly.

Finally, in my last post I mentioned the “controversy” some Western newspaper columnists have tried to whip up over the censoring of Bob Dylan's performance last month in Beijing. On May 13 the man himself fired off a rare riposte to his critics via his website, claiming “If there were any songs, verses or lines censored, nobody ever told me about it and we played all the songs that we intended to play.” You can read his full post here.

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