×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Berlin: Xinjiang-Set ‘A First Farewell’ Charms Festivals and Buyers

A First Farewell,” which debuted this week at the Berlin Film Festival, has secured its first sale and looks set to have a promising festival career. The movie is the first in nearly 30 years at the Berlinale to have been shot in Uighur, the language spoken in the vast western Chinese province of Xinjiang.

Following its premiere in Berlin’s Generation Kplus youth section, the Chinese-made film has received 10 additional festival invitations and been sold to Italy’s Mariposa Cinematografica. Sales agent Flash Forward Entertainment says it is also in advanced negotiations to license the film to major territories including the U.S., U.K., Germany, Spain, India, and South Korea.

At home in China, the completed film, by first-time director Lina Wang, secured investment from Tencent Pictures, the filmmaking arm of China’s social media, games and video giant Tencent. A domestic release strategy has not yet been elaborated.

Xinjiang and the Uighur people are sensitive subjects for China’s Communist rulers in Beijing. The national government in Beijing has long been accused of forcing the assimilation of Xinjiang’s Muslim-majority population, and of treating Muslims as separatists or terrorists. It is also accused of encouraging internal migration of Han Chinese into Xinjiang in order to dilute the native population, and of interning hundreds of thousands of Uighurs in detention camps.

Wang, who is ethnically Han but was born in Xinjiang’s Xayar County, dedicates “A First Farewell” to her hometown in a final title card and also in promotional material. The film is a touching portrait of a Uighur boy who slowly loses his innocence as his sick mother withdraws from the family, debt troubles mount, and his best friend is sent away to a better, Mandarin-language school in a faraway town.

Families fretting about educational standards for their children is about as political as “A First Farewell” ever becomes. There is no hint of Uighur separatism, religious suppression or the internment camps.

Wang originally intended to make a documentary about family loss after learning about the plight of the real-life mother depicted in the film. Instead she decided to tell the story from the children’s point of view and spent a year making the picture with amateur performers. “You cannot lie to children,” Wang says.

She also engaged top Chinese composer Xi Wen, whose credits include “Angels Wear White” and “Black Coal Thin Ice,” to provide a quiet, seamless score. The music only ever intrudes when a Uighur song plays over the end credits.

The package is a rural-set film of simplicity, unpolished characters, and visual beauty, reminiscent of Iranian cinema’s greats – Jafar Panahi or Abbas Kiarostami – or more recent titles by India’s Rima Das (whose “Bulbul Can Sing” also plays in the Berlinale’s Generations section).

“The narrative purity enchanted us at first glance,” said Massimo Righetti, founding partner of Mariposa, which bought the Italian rights to the film. “The delicate sensitivity of this journey through the environments, landscapes, culture and characters of this region in northwestern China brings on the big screen a story with an intense and polite charm, full of humanity.”

Wang presents a verdant, attractive picture of Xinjiang far different from the harsh deserts for which the province is known. “I wanted to present the real Xinjiang,” she told Variety. She is scripting her sophomore film, also to be set in the region, but can’t decide whether it will be a feature or a documentary.

More Film

  • Billie Holiday (1915-1959, born Eleanora Fagan)

    Billie Holiday Documentary Draws Buyers, Concord Boards Project

    Concord, successor to the Billie Holiday Estate, has boarded James Erskine’s documentary “Billie,” which tracks the singer’s life. Altitude Film Sales has revealed sales to several territories. Also joining the project, now in post-production, is the Brazilian colorization artist Marina Amaral. Most of the filmed and still images that exist of Holiday are in black [...]

  • My Extraordinary Summer With Tess review

    Film Review: 'My Extraordinary Summer With Tess'

    Winner of a special mention from the Berlinale Generation KPlus’ adult jury, the family-friendly, light drama “My Extraordinary Summer With Tess” is straightforward youth cinema with surprising emotional depth. Based on a prize-winning novel by Anna Woltz, a beloved Dutch writer of work for young readers, it explores family relationships and emphasizes the importance of [...]

  • UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report: Women, Minorities

    Hollywood Diversity Gains in TV but Falls Short in Movies

    Minorities and women have registered gains in several key areas of television but women continue to lag in movies, according to a report issued Thursday by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. “My basic take is that TV is improving more for minorities and women than film,” said Dr. Darnell [...]

  • Ghost Fleet review

    Film Review: 'Ghost Fleet'

    The revelatory documentary “Ghost Fleet” condemns the modern-day slave labor fueling the Thai fishing industry while focusing on the work of Bangkok-based advocacy organization Labor Rights Promotion Network Foundation (LPN), a group dedicated to ending slavery at sea. Combining chilling testimony from formerly enslaved men, some wincingly arty recreations of their ordeals, and on-the-ground footage [...]

  • WGA West Logo

    WGA Plans March 25 Member Vote on Talent Agency Rules

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America plan a March 25 vote for members to decide whether to implement tough new restrictions on how Hollywood talent agencies as operate as agents for writer clients. The vote comes as the guild is in the midst of pitched negotiations with the Association of Talent Agents to renew [...]

  • Netflix Buys Chinese Sci-fi Hit 'The

    Netflix Buys Chinese Sci-fi Hit 'The Wandering Earth'

    Netflix has bought rights to “The Wandering Earth,“ the smash hit film pitched as China’s first mainstream sci-fi movie. The movie was the sleeper hit of Chinese New Year. It opened in fourth position on Feb. 5 but climbed to the top spot and has not yet relinquished it. After 14 days in theaters, the [...]

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Film News Roundup: Michael B. Jordan's Hitman Drama 'Silver Bear' Gets Director

    In today’s film news roundup, Michael B. Jordan’s “The Silver Bear” finds a director, biopic “Running for My Life” is in the works, Fox is using new trailer compliance software and the 14-hour “La Flor” gets distribution. DIRECTOR ATTACHMENT Gerard McMurray, director of “The First Purge,” will write and direct Michael B. Jordan’s thriller “The [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content