HONG KONG — More than a dozen international film festival heads have signed a petition denouncing the Chinese authorities’ halting of the 11th Beijing Independent Film Festival.

The petition is signed by leading festival bosses including: Christoph Terhechte of the Berlin festival’s Forum section; Dennis Lim, director of programming at the Film Society of Lincoln Center; Rutger Wolfson, festival director of the Intl, Film Festival Rotterdam; Kent Jones, director of the New York Film Festival; Nashen Moodley, festival director of the Sydney Film Festival; and Shozo Ichiyama, program director at Tokyo Filmex.

Several have already displayed a statement on their festival’s websites.

The festival heads express their “deep concern” at the closure of the festival and the temporary detention of three of its organizers, as well as the confiscation of the archives of the sponsoring organization, the Li Xianting Film Fund. (For full text, see below.)

The Beijing Independent Film Festival, which has frequently had brushes with authority in previous editions, was due to get under way Aug. 23. But organizers say this time it was not even allowed to open its doors.

Three days before the scheduled debut, organizers said the film fund was subjected to intimidation by representatives from the Ministry of Education, Industrial and Commercial Bureau and the Tax Bureau. Organizers were then told that they could move the festival away from Xiaobao Village in the Beijing suburb of Songjiang, to nearby Yanjiao County in Hebei Province. But that suggestion was revoked less than a couple of hours later.
Chinese authorities maintain a largely centralized control on media in the country and show little tolerance for dissent. They have recently moved to tighten control over social media and use of it to carry news.

The municipal authorities in Beijing have in the past years also launched their own major film festival, the Beijing Intl. Film Festival. Held for the past four years in April, it has attracted senior international film industry executives and the heads of other major festivals.

The Beijing Independent Film Festival said on Aug. 19 its offices were visited by state security police who questioned organizers about two specific films. Organizers have insisted that none of the films scheduled to play was critical of China’s government.

The statement:
“As independent film festivals and supporters of independent cinema, we have learned with deep concern that the Chinese government and police authorities have prevented the 11th Beijing Independent Film Festival based in Songzhuang, Beijing, from opening last weekend, August 23rd, and detained its organizers Wang Hongwei, Fan Rong, and Li Xianting for several hours. We are also deeply concerned that BIFF’s sponsoring organization, the Li Xianting Film Fund, has been raided, and the entirety of its invaluable archives of independent Chinese cinema have reportedly been confiscated.

“We call upon the relevant Chinese authorities to permit the Beijing Independent Film Festival to pursue its mission to nurture and exhibit a full range of alternative cinematic voices in China, to allow the festival to operate without interference, and to allow the Li Xianting Film Fund to continue its vital mission of archiving and supporting independent Chinese filmmakers.”

Berlinale Forum, Christoph Terhechte, Head
DocLisboa, Cintia Gil and Augusto M. Seabra, co-directors
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Dennis Lim, Director of Programming
Goteborg Intl. Film Festival, Jonas Holmberg, Artistic Director,
Marit Kapla, Head of Program
Hong Kong Independent Film Festival, Vincent Chui, Artistic Director
Images Cinema, Doug Jones, Executive Director
International Film Festival Rotterdam, Rutger Wolfson, Festival Director
Lima Independiente Festival Internacional de Cine, Alonso Izaguirre, Director
New York Film Festival, Kent Jones, Director
Sydney Film Festival, Nashen Moodley, Festival Director
The Association of Documentary Filmakers of Chile, Amalric de Pontcharra
Torino Film Festival, Emanuela Martini, Director
Tromso Intl. Film Festival, Martha Otte, Festival Director
Tokyo Filmex, Shozo Ichiyama, Program Director
True/False Film Fest, Paul Sturtz and David Wilson, co-directors
Visions du Reel, Luciano Barisone, Director