Helmers Andrew Lau Wai-keung, Majid Majidi and Daryl Goodrich defended their involvement in a series of short films about the Beijing Olympics on Saturday, with Hong Kong director Lau Wai-keung criticizing Steven Spielberg for ankling as the Games’ artistic adviser.
Saturday’s press conference in Beijing to launch “Vision Beijing” — a series of short films about Olympic preparations — turned into a debate about the role of art in politics and just exactly what qualifies as propaganda.
“I was shocked and surprised that Steven stepped back from his work with the Beijing Olympics. It’s clear that the Olympics is all about sport and nothing to do with politics,” said Lau Wai-keung at the news conference.
He also questioned the timing of Spielberg’s decision to quit, so close to the Games themselves.
Spielberg quit Feb. 12 as adviser to the opening and closing ceremonies of the Aug. 8-24 Games, saying his conscience would not allow him take part because of China’s policy on the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Beijing then went on the offensive to try to regain some of the ground lost in the PR battle. While avoiding directly criticizing Spielberg, state media have slammed his decision and accused him of dragging the Olympics into the political arena.
Goodrich, a Blighty director and former athlete who helmed a promotional film for London’s 2012 bid, said he had complete freedom to film what he want and did not think his short, titled “Belief,” should be viewed as propaganda.
“Respect for human rights is absolutely essential wherever you are in the world — that’s non-negotiable. I was invited to make a film about sports, about children and to celebrate the Olympic Games. That’s what I do, and that’s why I came to Beijing and I had a wonderful time,” he said.
“Do I think it is a propaganda film? I think no. I’ve gone out to depict a story … of dedication and passion from a very young age to very old,” he said.
Spielberg’s exit was a bombshell on Beijing’s Olympic preparations, bringing the international spotlight to bear on China’s role in Darfur, its record on domestic press freedom and human rights and its policies in the regions of Tibet and Xinjiang. Beijing has defended itself, saying Spielberg had “ulterior motives” and that sport should be kept separate from politics.
There was a similar message from the gathered helmers in Beijing on Saturday.
“I believe that art should have nothing to do with politics. On the contrary, art may be undermined if it is connected with something like this,” said Majidi, the Iranian helmer whose 1998 film “Children of Heaven” was a foreign-language Oscar nominee.
Italian Guiseppe Tornatore and France’s Patrice Leconte also directed short pics for the “Vision Beijing” project, which bowed Sunday.
The Vision Beijing films will be broadcasted on CCTV-2 in China and will also be shown on pubcasters in Italy, France and Iran. The pics will screen online on Sohu.com.