Beijing festival shadow falls on smaller event

BEIJING — A well-known Chinese indie docu fest, the Songzhuang Documentary Film Festival China, was forced to cancel its May 1-7 event, bowing to pressure ahead of the first state-run Beijing Intl. Film Festival, which opens at the weekend.

“The overall situation was tense, and we had received a lot of pressure. We worried that the films to be shown would meet some problems in this environment and decided to cancel it,” the fest’s art director Zhu Rikun told the Global Times newspaper.

The Songzhuang fest is one of the two best-known docu fests in China, known for its independent spirit and generally seen as being of a very high standard.

The chances of the fest taking place are looking pretty slim.

The Beijing fest, which is funded by the capital’s city government and starts at the weekend, on Tuesday announced that it would include a documentary element to the program.

The cancellation of the Songzhuang fest comes against a backdrop of a major crackdown on dissent, which has seen at least 54 artists, lawyers, writers, activists and intellectuals taken away.

The most high-profile figure to be detained was the controversial artist Ai Weiwei, who remains missing weeks after he was picked up at Beijing airport en route to Hong Kong.

This would have been the 8th edition of the fest, which was founded in 2003 and has screened over 300 documentaries, both domestic and foreign, since it was set up.

“The content of the films was not a problem … It’s only because it is a sensitive time,” said another organizer, Li Shanshan.

They had prepared 26 films for the festival this year, and most of them had already screeed during the Yunnan Multicultural Visual Festival in March.

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