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Shah Rukh Khan’s ‘Zero,’ Chinese Propaganda Titles Set as Beijing Festival Highlights

Shah Rukh Khan-starring romance “Zero” has been set as the closing film of the Beijing International Film Festival. The sprawling festival will open with “The Composer,” a forthcoming Chinese-Kazakh co-production, as its opening title.

The festival, which runs April 13 to 20, 2019, has revealed its full selection of 261 titles. The decision to program “Zero” in such a prominent slot underlines the growing success which Indian films are enjoying with Chinese audiences. Directed by Aanand L. Rai and released in December, the Hindi-language “Zero” is Khan’s most expensive film yet. It features the star as a person with dwarfism in a love triangle with a scientist with cerebral palsy (Anushka Sharma) and a famous actress (Katrina Kaif).

“The Composer” is the first movie to emerge from a cooperation agreement between China and Kazakhstan under Chinese president Xi Jinping’s infrastructure-building project, the Belt and Road Initiative. Directed by Kazakhstan’s Xirzat Yahup, it describes the life of a Chinese composer stranded in Almaty in the 1940s who strikes up a friendship with a Kazakh composer. Chinese social media list it as scheduled for theatrical release in 2020.

The lineup is an eclectic mix of Hollywood blockbusters (including all five Jason Bourne films and all four “Mad Max” titles); homages to cineastes, including Akira Kurosawa and Alfonso Cuaron (with screenings of “Gravity” and “Children of Men”); and lesser-known works from countries including Indonesia and India.

An animation section will feature a retrospective of five works by Japan’s Mamoru Hosoda and a 20th anniversary presentation of Brad Bird’s “The Iron Giant,” among 14 other titles. Distributor GKIDS has called the lineup “the largest slate of international animated feature films to be shown in China.”

Other notable films recently announced include Casey Affleck’s “Light of My Life,” fresh off its Berlin premiere; Lebanese drama “Capernaum,” which won last year’s Grand Jury Prize at Cannes; Turkish drama “The Wild Pear Tree,” which was in competition in Cannes last year; Korean director Hong Sang-Soo’s “Hotel by the River”; and last year’s adaptation of Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” starring Saoirse Ronan.

Gay teenage romance “Love, Simon” is listed as a selection, which might raise some eyebrows given that last year, the festival announced the screening of the Oscar-winning gay coming-of-age story “Call Me by Your Name” but subsequently dropped the film from its lineup. LGBT content is officially banned on Chinese TV, but when it comes to film, the rules are more blurred. A version of the Oscar-winning Freddie Mercury biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” is currently playing in Chinese theaters with much of its gay content cut out by censors.

This year’s Beijing film market has been extended by an extra day to run four days from April 16 to 19 at the Beijing International Hotel. Panel discussions will be held on art-house film, China-India co-productions, digital cinema technology, and Internet films, but the centerpiece will be a forum on the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding.

As such, 2019 is a politically sensitive year for the country. The 70th anniversary is marked in this year’s festival with a dedicated section that includes propaganda flicks “The Founding of a Republic,” made in honor of the 60th anniversary a decade ago, as well as restored Chinese classics such as Zhang Yimou’s “Red Sorghum” and Huo Jianqi’s “The Postmen in the Mountains.”

At a press conference earlier this week, the festival announced that it had signed a three-year deal, running 2019-2021, that sets Alibaba’s Tao Piaopiao as its exclusive online ticketing partner. 

Director Robert Minkoff (“The Lion King”) will head the jury for the Tiantan Awards, in which a strange mix of 15 films will compete — almost none of which are world premieres. Leading the line-up is commercial VFX extravaganza “The Wandering Earth,” which has already been playing in mainland theaters since February and since become the country’s second highest grossing film of all time, with a box office total of nearly $700 million and counting.

Six other jury members will join him, including Hong Kong star Carina Lau, British Hollywood director Simon West (“Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”, “Con Air”), Chilean director Silvio Caiozzi, China’s Cao Baoping (“Einstein and Einstein”), Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi, and Kazakh director Sergey Dvortsevoy.

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