‘Palace’ guard Lou defies filming ban

Director takes a stand against censors Helmer Lou takes stand against censors

Chinese helmer Lou Ye will continue to make movies despite a five-year government ban, and said censorship risked stifling the healthy growth of China’s film industry.

Lou was muzzled after he screened his latest pic “Summer Palace” at the Cannes Film Festival in May before it was approved by government censors.

“In every country, imposing a ban is not a good way for a writer or an artist. You can’t do this, it doesn’t work, it’s a mistake. I worry about the future but I cannot stop my work, I just have to try to continue it,” he said in an interview at the Pusan Intl. Film Festival.

“Summer Palace” is a love story set against the backdrop of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, and contains explicit sex scenes. It was the only Asian pic in competition for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes fest. Pic’s producer Nai An was also banned from working for five years.

The five-year term was Lou’s second ban — he was prohibited from filmmaking for two years in 2000 for “Suzhou River,” which was produced without official approval. The 1989 protests remain a thorny issue with the Chinese authorities, who still condemn them as “counter-revolutionary.” Despite the controversial content, Lou said his first reaction to news of the ban was surprise.

“It’s the second time I’ve been banned, but this is 2006, so it came as a surprise. Six years ago maybe, but China has changed a lot — this is like news from 10 years ago,” he said.

Despite the bans, Lou said he was determined to remain a Chinese filmmaker and not take the route that other helmers have done of making movies abroad.

He also said he was willing to work within the system and negotiate with the censors to make cuts to the movie so it can be shown in China.

Fears of censorship are dampening creativity among young filmmakers in China, which produces 250 films a year but has very strict rules on content, particularly political content.

“If the first thing you have to think about is censorship, this is very bad for a young director. He must think about story, ideas and emotions, not censorship. If you have to worry about a ban, you lose your freedom,” he said.

Lou was at PIFF to screen “Summer Palace” and meet Korean distributors. Distribution rights to the film have sold in more than 20 countries so far. Many of Lou’s colleagues in the biz fear that the ban signals the rolling back of artistic freedom hard won in the past 10 years.

The helmer went on to say that the Chinese government needs to do more to help encourage young helmers and producers and allow more diversity in the kind of films on offer.

He is currently working on another pic, a love story, but said the terms of the ban make it a difficult process.

“I’m working with a scriptwriter and we discuss the story. This ban means no film work, but for me, film work is sitting in a room and thinking about film. It’s horrible, because thinking is a very important part of film work,” he said.

“For the next project I must think about censorship, but talking about censorship is not my job, I’m a filmmaker. Love is a more interesting subject than politics. It’s about a girl and a boy — that’s very interesting, isn’t it? The ban is boring.”

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