Sidebar spotlights China’s neglected mainstream

Pix from unknown generation of Chinese helmers offer a different perspective

The transformation of China from Maoism to a hybrid of unfettered capitalism and socialism is one of the most fascinating developments in recent history. Yet in the Western world, only two genres of Chinese cinema have made an impact: arthouse fare catering to the festival crowd and flashy kung fu spectacles.

This year, the Thessaloniki fest shows a side of Chinese film that’s so far been ignored by the fest circuit. Variety senior film critic Derek Elley, an expert on Chinese cinema, has assembled a retrospective spanning the last decade, including more than 20 little-seen mainstream pics, with an emphasis on younger helmers.

“At the moment, China is a really happening place,” Elley says. “The industry is booming, but it’s still in a fragile state. The films that I’ve selected aren’t big genre pieces, but everyday life, contemporary urban dramas or comedies.”

Elley aims to introduce Western auds to a new, still largely unknown generation of Chinese helmers who provide a different perspective, not only on Chinese cinema but on Chinese society.

Helmer Dayyan Eng, whose romantic comedy “Waiting Alone,” will be screening in Thessaloniki, says, “The Chinese films that are usually shown on the Western festival circuit have nothing to do with what’s going on in China.”

Eng was born in Taiwan and studied film in the U.S. He moved to Beijing 11 years ago.

His “Waiting Alone” was a huge hit with young Chinese auds and nabbed three nominations at China’s top film awards.

Helmer Chen Daming, who also lived in the U.S. for eight years and whose caper-cum-comedy “Manhole” will be screening in Thessaloniki, says: “Festivals are ultimately a good platform for Chinese movies to get recognized, but I want to get away from existing Chinese cinema cliches, which only help to ghettoize us.”

Chen insists: “Everything that’s going on in China right now is interesting. You just have to hold up your camera and you’ll capture something interesting. But interesting is not enough; you have to touch and reach out to people with your film — and not just try to get a Palme d’Or.”