Organizers said on Wednesday that they were unable to go ahead as planned with the 23rd edition of the A-list festival, which was to have run June 13-23. They were careful not to describe the festival as canceled, but they were unable to advise the new dates.
“Despite the impact of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, preparations for 23rd Shanghai International Film Festival have progressed steadily thanks to the generous support and deep engagement of the entire film community at home and abroad. We are deeply grateful for what you’ve done for us, and we hereby apologize for any inconveniences caused by the postponement,” they said in a statement. “The new dates for the 23rd Shanghai International Film Festival will be announced as soon as possible.”
The Shanghai event is not the first film festival in Asia to be halted due to the impact of the virus outbreak. The Beijing International Film Festival, in China’s capital, had its physical manifestation canceled and was replaced earlier this month with a much smaller, online-only showcase. But Shanghai is the most prestigious in the region to have suffered this fate.
The announcement comes at a time when much of China is now emerging from stay-at-home regimes into a post-coronavirus new normal and economic activity is gaining speed. The giant Shanghai megalopolis, in particular, had escaped the worst effects of the coronavirus compared with other cities. Despite being one of the world’s largest cities, Shanghai has recorded only 666 cases of the virus and 7 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University in the U.S.
The decision to postpone the mid-June likely has two main causes. First, while China is busily restarting its economy, the authorities are very aware of the possibility of second or third waves of infections. That has been the case in Wuhan, where the first cases of the COVID-19 virus were discovered, and where the city authorities were this month caught out by new infections . In reaction Wuhan has now ordered the testing of 11 million people in the city.
In order to prevent imported infections, China has so far largely kept its borders closed. No date has yet been announced for when cross-border travel restrictions will be lifted.
The other factor is likely to be another date uncertainty, this one concerning when mainland China’s movie exhibition sector will reopen. Central authorities have said that cinemas may reopen, but they have largely left it in the hands of city and provincial authorities to make local decisions. While some commentators and surveys have suggested that the Chinese public is looking forward to the collective cinema experience, few are suggesting that box office will immediately return to its normal trajectory.