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Shanghai Festival Serves Up Something for Everyone

The 18th edition of the Shanghai International Film Festival kicks off Saturday (June 13-21) with a wide-ranging and creditable lineup that nevertheless also reflects the imprint of censorship, politics and central control.

Just days before the festival was due to begin, the Ministry of Culture obliged it to withdraw Japanese anime “Attack on Titan,” which the ministry put on a blacklist of titles said to contain violence and pornography.

The Shanghai audience will, however, get to see “Citizenfour,” the acclaimed documentary about Edward Snowden. While whistle-blowing and state-backed espionage are not regular topics for movies made in China, Laura Poitras’ picture paints an especially unflattering portrait of China’s rival, the U.S. And “Sunstroke,” directed by Russian filmmaker and noted Vladimir Putin supporter Nikita Mikhalkov, is given prominence with a shot at the festival’s Golden Goblet Award.

Contacted by Variety, the festival’s chief selector, Kane Yu; the selection committee; and Hu Jinjun, director of the Shanghai Municipal Administration of Culture Radio, Film and Television, all declined to discuss SIFF’s film selection policy.

The festival appears to be a market-testing ground for a handful of Hollywood titles. Antoine Fuqua’s “Southpaw,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal, will get its world premiere during the festival. “Southpaw” was substantially funded by leading Chinese company Wanda Pictures. Walt Disney Pictures will get to screen all six “Star Wars” movies for the first time in China. They will likely stir interest ahead of the release of new episode “The Force Awakens” later this year.

Though foreign movies will get substantial attention, the festival goes some way to shedding light on new Chinese cinema. Jia Zhangke’s “Mountains May Depart,” which debuted in Cannes last month, will have its Asian premiere in Shanghai. Having been co-produced by Shanghai Film Group, the picture is a logical shoo-in for SIFF. But Jia has proved a thorn in the side of the Chinese authorities, and his previous picture “A Touch of Sin,” which was also backed by SFG, remains unreleased in Chinese theaters.

SIFF has found room for 19 titles by emerging Chinese directors, though the selections are not all new. Among them, “Fleet of Time” by Zhang Yibai topped national box office in last December.

Another sidebar, the Internet Film Carnival, puts the spotlight on the crossover of content from the Internet to the bigscreen. The section includes forums, corporate pitches and the screening of movies including “Roco Kingdom” (derived from Tencent’s adventure games series), “A Hero or Not” and 2014 Taiwanese comedy drama “Café Waiting Love,” adapted from a Giddens Ko novel.

More established directors with films from the last year get further play: Jiang Wen’s “Gone With the Bullets” was released in December, and Ann Hui’s “The Golden Era,” released in October, has already exhausted the festival and prize circuits.

The Hong Kong-China action co-production “SPL 2,” directed by Cheang Pou-soi, will debut in SIFF as the opener of the first Jackie Chan Action Movie Week sidebar.

As with the Beijing film festival held in April, SIFF’s official selection showcases a lineup of critically acclaimed movies rolled out in 2014. English-language, Oscar favorites “Birdman,” “Whiplash” and “The Theory of Everything” will be shown alongside award-winning foreign-language pictures like “Winter Sleep,” “Ida” and “Two Days, One Night.” None of these are likely to receive a theatrical release in China due to quota restrictions on foreign films.

SIFF goes further than its Beijing rival in both the overall number of titles and its focus on regional cinema. Shanghai is showcasing commercially successful Asian titles including “The Teachers Diary” from Thailand and “P.K.” from India (currently on release in China with a record-breaking gross of $18 million).

In the running for Shanghai’s Asian New Talent Award are several rising filmmakers; Japan’s Momoko Ando, with “0.5mm,” and India’s Aditya Vikram Sengupta with “Labour of Love,” among them.

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