Chinese release schedule delayed for events

BEIJING — A crucial Communist Party confab scheduled for the fall and the upcoming Olympics are playing havoc with the scheduling of Chinese films: Anything controversial is being delayed in favor of patriotic propaganda movies.

One big-name casualty is “Lost in Beijing,” which explores the urban-rural divide in China and caused a stir when it unspooled uncensored at Berlin.

“We were planning to release it on May 18, then in August, but we’ve been told to wait until after the National Congress,” producer Fang Li said. “Everything has to be peaceful and harmonious before the congress.

“November is our earliest window. Let’s wait and see what happens after the congress,” Fang said.

Other movies whose releases have been delayed to make way for the confab include Li Yang’s “Blind Mountain,” which screened at Cannes. The date for the congress has not been announced, but it is expected to be held after October.

“This year and next year are bad for filmmakers. It’s the wrong time to be making a film,” said one filmmaker who requested anonymity.

The Chinese government plans to show 17 “ethically inspiring propaganda movies” in the run-up to the congress, where President Hu Jintao is expected to make some personnel changes aimed at cementing his power within the Communist Party and outline its direction for the next few years.

In some ways, it’s a surprise that “Lost in Beijing,” which features Hong Kong thesp Tony Leung Ka-fai, got anywhere near a release, considering that it’s set in contemporary China and features scenes of rape and prostitution.

Fang angered the Film Bureau by showing an uncensored version of “Lost” in Berlin, saying he didn’t have time to make the cuts demanded by the censor. It is still unclear whether the film will ever be given a theatrical release, as the delay may become permanent.

Chinese media made a big fuss in April when distributor PolyBona said it was dropping “Lost in Beijing” to make way for “TMNT”; even the normally pliable newspapers said “Lost” was unlikely to be a major competitor for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pic.

Producer Nai An and helmer Lou Ye were banned from making movies in China for five years after showing “Summer Palace” at the Cannes Film Festival last year without clearing it with Chinese censors.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more