The Chinese government has raised its profile on the fest circuit recently, most recently by canceling two Chinese entries in the Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival in protest over the inclusion of a film about Tibetan independence.
Chinese state-run producers were angered that “The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom,” which deals with the Dalai Lama, was part of the desert fest’s roster.
The move to pull Lu Chuans “City of Life and Death” and short film “Quick Quick Slow Slow” from the Palm Springs lineup comes soon after a court in the northwestern province of Qinghai jailed a Tibetan filmmaker for six years for separatist activities after he returned from exile to make a documentary about his homeland.
It’s also a signal of how China is no longer shy about exercising its expanded global influence. Since the global financial downturn, China has been seen as a financial savior, helping to prop up the flagging global economy with a massive pump-priming spending plan, but it is keen to match its economic muscle with expanded political influence, and this extends into the cultural sphere.
A spokesman for the China Film Group, China’s biggest film company and has enormous influence on what gets made and seen in China, says he was not aware of the issue, but Lu Chuan issued a statement in which he said he had heard that the festival would be screening the documentary and expressed that he wanted to withdraw his film from the fest.
Asked if he had withdrawn the film under pressure, Lu says: “We indeed were informed by China Film Group, a production party of ‘City of Life and Death,’ then decided to withdraw the film. As a Chinese director, (I) must behave in accordance with the national interest.”
In July, Chinese directors were required to withdraw their films from the Melbourne Intl. Film Festival after the government protested the inclusion of a film about the Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer, who the Beijing government also sees as a dangerous separatist. Beijing also tried to persuade the organizers of the Frankfurt Book Fair this year not to allow two Chinese writers to attend an event.
Palm Springs fest director Darryl Macdonald said in a statement that Chinese officials requested the fest not screen “The Sun Behind the Clouds,” but had declined the request.
We cannot allow the concerns of one country or community to dictate what films we should or should not play, based on their own cultural or political perspective,” he says.