China’s Pingyao International Film Festival got under way on Tuesday with the gala screening of Zhang Lu’s new drama film “Yanagawa.” The festival will unspool Oct. 12-19 with a familiar package of competition screenings a work in progress section, a film lab, a project market and a tribute section dedicated to Tsui Hark.

Organizers announced an ambitious twelve-title competition section (“Crouching Tigers”) for first second and third films from around the world.

These include: “Amparo,” directed by Simón Mesa Soto (Colombia, Sweden, Qatar); “As Far As I Can Walk,” directed by Strahinja Banovic (Serbia, Luxembourg, France, Bulgaria, Lithuania); “Feathers,” directed by Omar El Zohairy (France, Egypt, The Netherlands, Greece); “Mama, I’m Home” (Mama, Ya Doma) directed by Vladimir Bitokov (Russia); “Pedro” directed by Natesh Hegde (India); “Playground” (Un Monde) directed by Laura Wandel (Belgium); “Prayers for the Stolen” (Noche de Fuego) directed by Tatiana Huezo (Mexico, Germany, Brazil, Qatar); “Rehana” (Rehana Maryam Noor) directed by Abdullah Mohammad Saad (Bangladesh, Singapore, Qatar); “The Tale of King Crab” (Re Granchio) directed by Alessio Rigo de Righi & Matteo Zoppis (Italy, Argentina, France); “What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?” (Ras vkhedavt, rodesac cas vukurebt) directed by Alexandre Koberidze (Germany, Georgia); “Whether the Weather Is Fine” (Kun Maupay Man It Panahon) directed by Carlo Francisco Manatad (Philippines, France, Singapore, Indonesia, Germany, Qatar) and “White Building” (Bodeng Sar) directed by Kavich Neang (Cambodia, France).

The panorama of Chinese films (“Hidden Dragons”) by first-, second- or third-time directors includes: Na Jiazuo’s “Streetwise” (Gaey Wa’r) which debuted in Cannes; the world premiere of Dong Chunze’s “Minibus Driver”; the world premiere of Zheng Peike’s “Karma”; Wang Lin’s “Venus by Water”; Sun Liang’s “Lost in Summer”; the world premiere of Tu Men’s “The Last Post”; Jia Su’s “Grateful to Have You”; the world premiere of Yan Hai’s “Summer Sonatina”; Cannes film “Ripples of Life,” by Wei Shujun; and the world premiere of “Journey to the West” by Kong Dashan.

Operating an independent festival in China is a tall order, especially at a time when the government is cracking down on the entertainment sector and asserting the primacy of the Communist Party in every corner of Chinese life.

The PYIFF was launched by indie film icon Jia Zhangke five years ago in his native Shanxi province and has been closely associated with the pioneering Jia and former Locarno and Venice festival boss Marco Mueller.

During the 2020 festival’s final wrap press conference, Jia spectacularly announced that he was quitting and blamed local political interference.

In June this year, Jia said that he would, after all, be returning, albeit in the possibly fictitious role of chief experience office. Shanghai-based Mueller was to advise on the international selection.

The festival this year contains a sidebar called ‘Cinephile’ which is home to patriotic blockbuster films “The Battle at Lake Changjin” and “My Country, My Parents,” currently the two top-ranking films at the commercial box office.