HONG KONG — In a surprise move, the selectors for the 21st edition of the Hong Kong Intl. Film Festival, the last before the change from British to Chinese rule on July 1, have invited only two mainland Chinese movies.

More than 215 films will be screened during the non-competitive festival, which will run from March 25 to April 9. The government’s Urban Council, which sponsors the event, will also hold a conference April 10-12 that will examine the history of Hong Kong cinema and its future at a time of crisis in the industry.

When asked why there were only two Chinese films, one feature and one documentary, committee chairman Pao Ping-wing said, ”We did invite two, and they say they are coming.”

Last year, China forced three mainland films to withdraw, and the festival’s Asian cinema programmer later quit in protest over the censorship. China keeps a tight rein on its filmmakers and will not allow them to attend events in Taiwan, for instance.

Pao said the council is not trying to ”play it safe” by avoiding politically charged films. ”We tried our best to get the highest artistic-standard films. It’s not 100% in our hands; the owners must be willing to show them.”

The invited Chinese films are Zhang Ming’s ”In Expectation,” about life in a small town on the Yangtze River that is due to be swamped when the Three Gorges Dam is built; and ”No. 16 Barkhor South Street,” a documentary about Chinese residents committees in Tibet.

The curtain goes up with locally made ”Kitchen.” Based on a Banana Yoshimoto novel, Yim Ho’s film tells the story of a hairdresser, his transsexual mother/biological father, and the troubled young woman they take in.

The festival closes with a salute to local director King Hu, who died in January.

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