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Cannes: China’s ‘Summer of Changsha’ Debuts Without Censorship Approval

Chinese crime drama “Summer of Changsha” screened at the Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section despite lacking the necessary approvals from China’s censors. It premiered without its director or creative team in attendance, who blamed “technical reasons” for their absence — marking the third time that Chinese censorship appears to have caused a disruption at a major international festival this year.

The film played to full theaters on the Croisette Wednesday and Thursday, but without the required “dragon seal” that indicates it has been approved by Chinese authorities. Movies lacking the seal cannot be released theatrically in China, and, since a recent tightening of restrictions, also increasingly cannot be screened abroad at festivals. Titles bound for overseas festivals now also need an additional travel permit that, once issued, means that a film’s length and dialogue cannot be changed and no new investors can come on.

At noon on Tuesday, the film’s official Weibo social media account put out a statement that read, “Due to technical reasons, the ‘Summer of Changsha’ producer and creative team will not attend the 72nd Cannes Film Festival and affiliated official activities.” This announcement was issued even though the film’s producer was already in Cannes.

The same term — “technical reasons” — had been cited as the reason that Zhang Yimou’s highly anticipated Cultural Revolution-era film “One Second” was pulled out of the Berlin Film Festival in February. Hong Kong director Derek Tsang’s edgy coming-of-age drama “Better Days” was also yanked around that time.

Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux had made assurances before the festival that screenings of “Summer of Changsha” and Chinese director Diao Yinan’s main competition title “Wild Goose Lake” would go ahead without complications, according to Chinese film website Mtime.

“Changsha” is the directorial debut of actor Zu Feng, known for his work in TV series like “All Quiet in Peking” and his turn as a police detective in director Lou Ye’s “Mystery,” which played in Cannes’ main competition in 2012.

The slow-paced film tells the story of a police detective grappling with the death of his ex as he investigates a strange murder case and becomes embroiled with a mysterious woman. Films that touch upon the police or public security organs have to go through a separate “special channel” of approval. Chinese sources say it’s possible that though the “Changsha” team likely thought they could make it through, this extra layer of approval was not accomplished in time.

In 2017, animated thriller “Have a Nice Day” was also pulled at the request of Chinese authorities out of the Annecy animation festival despite having already premiered in Berlin a few months before.

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