China’s Pingyao International Film Festival will play “Old Neighborhood” as its opening night movie, in place of the previously announced “Liberation.” The announcement was made on Monday evening, just three days before the third edition of the Jia Zhangke-led festival is due to get under way on Thursday.
While the festival quoted the number of film’s release permit, and said that it had permission for the screening, Pingyao organizers said that “Liberation,” directed by Li Shaohong and Chang Xiaoyang, had not completed its post-production. “The post-production including the digital and visual effects of the film has not been completed as expected and it will have to require further work,” it said in a statement.
While the festival did not overtly hint at any political or regulatory difficulties, Chinese films and film festivals this year have been dogged with censorship and other permitting problems since the beginning of the year. In many cases the problems have been blamed on “technical problems” such as the ones described.
Celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, which reached their height last week, on Oct. 1, have made this year a particularly politically sensitive one.
“Liberation,” was the only one of the many patriotic movies releasing this month to be directed by a woman. Backed by Wanda Pictures, it is scheduled for commercial release on Oct. 25.
“Old Neighborhood” is described as being the third “BRICS co-production”. That is a reference to the Belt & Road Infrastructure initiative. Within China, the outreach initiative, which provides infrastructure and low-cost finance to foreign governments, is seen as a centerpiece of foreign policy and international co-operation. Several western governments have criticized the scheme as neo-colonialism and a debt trap.
The film’s director Han Yan has a short but impressive track record. His second film, romance “Go Away, Mr Tumour” was selected as China’s foreign-language Oscar contender in 2015. He followed that with the Michael Douglas-starring adventure “Animal World” played at the Shanghai festival last year.
Having a good track record has not necessarily been much defense against extreme political sensitivity this year.
The short notice cancellation in February of Zhang Yimou’s Berlin competition screening of “One Second” was one of the first indications that Chinese authorities had this year begun scrutinizing film releases and festival performances with ever greater thoroughness. “One Second” is set in the still sensitive Cultural Revolution period.
A few months later, in June, the scheduled screening of “The Eight Hundred,” set as the opening gala presentation of the Shanghai film festival, was cancelled with just 24 hours notice. Although the film had passed all the normal censorship processes, it subsequently emerged that a committee of Communist Party ideologues had criticized the film for giving a too positive portrayal of the nationalists who later fled to Taiwan.
“Liberation” director, Li is chair of the China Film Directors’ Guild. She has credits that include 2004 romance “Baober in Love” and last year’s “A City Called Macau,” which highlights China’s anti-corruption campaign in Macau, following the former Portuguese colony’s return to Chinese rule.