Helmer gets gov’t stamp

Banned director back in Beijing's good graces

SHANGHAI — Award-winning underground helmer Jia Zhangke has been brought back into the fold with the announcement that the Beijing Film Bureau has approved his director status. Though Jia has made four feature films to date, he has up to now worked outside of the system of Film Bureau approvals officially required to shoot and release films in China.

Jia’s films include the critically acclaimed “Xiao Wu,” which won the Tigers and Dragons Award at Vancouver in 1998, and “Platform” which in 2000 won the Netpac award at Venice, where it was also nominated for a Golden Lion. His most recent movie, “Unknown Pleasures,” was in competition at Cannes in 2002.

Jia lost his director status after sending his first film “Xiao Wu” (1997) to film festivals overseas without the approval of the Film Bureau. Since that time, his films have been on the banned-in-China list, and have never been released on the Mainland.

“I am very happy with the Film Bureau’s decision,” the 33-year-old director was quoted as saying in the “Youth Times” newspaper. “I have always hoped (Chinese) audiences would get to see my films on the bigscreen.”

The director went on: “Now we are in better shape for making films. That’s not just because, as in the past, we are building experience, but also because we now stand a better chance of getting financial backing.”

Jia is in preproduction on his latest, unnamed, pic in the southern city of Shenzhen. It’s slated to star actress Zhao Tao — who previously acted in Jia’s “Platform” and “Unknown Pleasures” — and Cheng Taisheng, well-known for his role in Zhu Wen’s “Seafood.”

The film is likely to be Jia’s first to be released in China, having already received production approval from the Film Bureau, and is a co-production with the Shanghai Film Studio.

The Film Bureau’s decision is part of a wide-reaching reassessment of banned films and directors. A spokesman for the Film Bureau — which operates under the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (Sarft), the film industry’s governing body — commented that several recent underground films, including Wang Xiaoshuai’s “Beijing Bicycle,” may soon be assessed for approval.

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