Pingyao Festival Celebrates Indie Spirit at Opening

With smell of coal all pervasive in the night air, Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke played host Thursday at the opening of the second edition of his Pingyao International Film Festival.

Standing at the top of the steps of a red carpet leading to an improvised open air theater, Jia gave a warm welcome, despite the chilly evening, to an impressive lineup of Chinese and foreign guests.

Red carpet names included Liao Fan, Huang Xiaoming, Gordon Lam, Zhang Yibai, and Zhao Tao, James Wang, Ren Zhonglun, Albert Lee and Sabrina Barracetti.

The ceremony included break dancers in electric suits, lengthy official speeches, and drinks, car and dating apps as sponsors. There was also an East West cultural understand award presented to Hong Kong film making icon Johnnie To.

The PYIFF, which also calls itself the Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon festival, is one of the few major film events in China not directly controlled by a government department. That’s a tip of the hat to Jia’s position as China’s leading indie. But the event cooperates closely with authorities and there is not even a hint of an underground movie. Instead but styles itself as a “boutique festival for the people.“ And all films screening have been sure to collect the green dragon government seal of approval.

Aside from its unusual regulated indie status, what makes the fest interesting is the extraordinary setting inside a walled city, and its cutting edge film lineup.

The city claims 2,700 years of history and UNESCO heritage status. Lightly touristy shops sit only a block away from the genuinely ancient. The festival makes use of a converted diesel factory as its miniplex screening hub.

Some 13 of its Chinese film selections are world premieres. Several more are the cream that played the early fall festivals in Venice, Toronto and Busan. International titles include the latest efforts by auteurs including Vetri Maraan and Ivo Ferreira.

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