China has struggled to get viewers back into cinemas this week, but the Shanghai Intl. Film Festival (SIFF) has found a way to break through: screen all eight of the “Harry Potter” franchise films in a row, with limited seating due to COVID-19 distancing measures, and watch the public duke it out for the privilege to attend.
They must be doing something right in their selection, however: the festival sold 108,000 tickets in the first ten minutes of online sales. That contrasted with only slow box office in commercial cinemas which resumed operating on Monday.
SIFF is set to run July 25 to Aug. 2 with an eclectic selection shown in a mix of screenings with a live audience, outdoor viewings and online streaming.
More than 400 films will screen in 29 designated cinemas, including Jordan Peele’s “Us,” a 4K restoration of “Apocalypse Now,” and “1917,” the only studio film new to Chinese audiences among the various offerings.
SIFF will be employing COVID-19 prevention measures such as selling tickets spaced apart to allow for social distancing, requiring masks and taking temperatures of in-person attendees. No guests will come in from overseas and tickets are only pre-sold online.
The festival will include a conference series known as the Golden Goblet Forum, its International Film and TV Market, and the SIFF project market. It will feature a Belt and Road Film Week, an India Film Week, and special sections focusing on films from Germany, Italy, Japan, and Indonesia.
This year, its Golden Goblet Awards will see a dozen films competing in the feature film category, four in the documentary section, four in the animation, and thirteen shorts.
The feature film competition includes: “Feel Your Memories,” from Italian director Cristina Comencini; “Helene,” a biopic about Finnish painter Helene Schjerfbeck directed by Antti Jokinen, and whose streaming rights in China were recently acquired by Hugoeast; Japanese drama about two youngsters “One Summer Story,” directed by Shuichi Okita; “Icarus, The Legend of Mietek Kosz,” an award-winning tragedy drama about a jazz pianist, directed by Poland’s Maciej Pieprzyca; “One Day We’ll Talk About Today,” an Indonesian family drama currently streaming on Netflix from helmer Angga Dwimas Sasongko; “I Am Here!,” from Iran’s Abbas Amini; Spanish-Argentinian title “Island of Lies,” directed by Paula Cons; another Argentinian title “Ciegos,” a coming of age story in which a 13-year-old boy makes a journey with his blind father; and Greek-German co-production “All The Pretty Little Horses” by Michalis Konstantatos.
It will also include three films from China: “Back to the Wharf,” directed by Li Xiaofeng; “The Reunions,” by Da Peng, and “Tracing Her Shadow,” a Sino-Japanese co-production from director Pengfei.
The documentary section includes: “Gogo,” directed by France’s Pascal Plisson; “Like the Dyer’s Hand,” from Taiwanese director Chen Tsun-shing; “Minamata Mandala,” by Japan’s Kazuo Hara; and “An Elegy to Forgetting,” directed by The Philippines’ Kristoffer G. Brugada.
The animation section includes: “Ginger’s Tale,” directed by Russia’s Konstantin Shekin; “The Old Man Movie,” from Estonia and co-directed by Mikk Magi and Oskar Lehemaa; China’s “Boonie Bears: The Wild Life,” by Leon Ding; and “Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop,” by Japan’s Kyohei Ishiguro.
A further 14 films will compete in the Asian New Talent competition. Six are from the mainland: director Liang Ming’s “Wisdom Tooth,” which has already done the rounds at the Pingyao and Macao festivals; “Wild Grass” from Xu Zhanxiong; “Model,” by Jing Ran; “Like Father and Son,” by Bai Zhiqiang; “All About Ing,” by Huang Zi; and “A Little Bird Reminds Me,” by Shi Xin.
There are two titles from India, despite recent geopolitical tensions between China and its neighbor. They are “Cargo” by Arati Kadav and “Debris of Desire,” an Indian-Bangladeshi production by Indranil Roychowdhury. Other films include: “Daughters,” from Japan’s Hajime Tsuda, “Mickey on the Road,” from Taiwan’s Lu Mianmian”; “Sometime, Sometime,” from Malaysia’s Jacky Yeap; “The Lake,” from Kyrgyzstan’s Emil Atageldiev. Two also hail from Iran — Kazem Mollaie’s “The Badger” and Mostafa Gandomkar’s “Najibeh.”
Meanwhile, the festival will also run sections paying tribute to Federico Fellini, Claude Chabrol, Satoshi Kon, Takeshi Kitano, and China’s Wu Yigong, a Shanghai-based director who died last year.
Master classes will be given by directors Jia Zhangke, Olivier Assayas, Dennis Villeneuve, and Japanese helmers Hirokazu Koreeda and Naomi Kawase, as well as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” screenwriter James Schamus, who is currently involved in Beijing Culture’s in-progress trilogy “Fengshen.”
Despite rapidly plummeting relations between China and the U.S., American films are not absent from this year’s festival, although there are few recent or independent titles. SIFF will feature a TriStar Pictures retrospective that includes “The Mask of Zorro,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Jerry Maguire,” “Glory,” “As Good as it Gets,” “The Fisher King,” and “Legends of the Fall.” A bit randomly, it will re-screen a 4K restoration of “The Deer Hunter,” and show horror films “Doctor Sleep” and “It: Chapter Two.”
Incongruously, Apple TV+’s “The Banker,” the 1950s-set drama about two Black entrepreneurs played by Samuel L. Jackson and Anthony Mackie that went online in March, is set to screen as part of the Belt and Road film week, even though the U.S. is not a part of that foreign policy initiative. Its selection could signal a potential theatrical release in China for the otherwise straight-to-streaming title.
Surprisingly, SIFF’s line-up also includes five South Korean films, which have been unofficially banned in China since 2016 to punish the country for cooperating with the U.S. on the THAAD missile defense system, which Beijing opposed. A thaw in this policy has been rumored for months, and Shanghai’s selection could be a sign that the door might open for such content once again. The selected films are the original 1960 “The Housemaid” by Kim Ki-Young and four more contemporary titles, including last year’s crime thriller “The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil.”
It is Japan, however, that is the real international star of SIFF this year, with dozens of films scattered throughout all the different sections. In addition to the “Focus Japan” section, there are special sections celebrating films from Satoshi Kon, Takeshi Kitano and Japanese studio Shochiku.
In keeping with the times, a cute section entitled “Universal Apocalypse” will screen “The Constant Gardner,” “World War Z,” “Arrival,” anime “Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis,” and Jean-Luc Godard’s “Film Socialism.”