As ÉCU was in Beijing last week, we thought we’d delve into the Chinese indie film scene a bit more. Since we’re well aware of the difficulties surrounding independent filmmaking in general, we’re even more impressed by those who strive to create their work in places where it is a real struggle. In light of the constraints imposed by the controlling Film Bureau (which holds the reins in terms of licenses, releases and censorship), filmmakers in China face many obstacles. Luckily, independent filmmaking in China has been made more possible thanks to this age of compact digital technology, allowing filmmakers a certain amount of freedom and discretion in creating their art.

There has been a surge in independent filmmaking since the 1990s, yet these films cannot be sold legally in China. However, technology also permits filmmakers to seek out an audience online, as there are half a billion Internet users in China. This summer the Beijing Independent Film Festival hit a speed-bump when they experienced an unsettling power-cut a little too conveniently during their first screening, after they had been officially warned not to show the film Egg and Stone (directed by Huang Ji).

Not too far from us in Paris, the newly established London Chinese Independent Film Festival held screenings in September of some top notch Chinese independent films. These included: Bumming in Beijing (1990); Dong (2006); Oxhide2 (2009); Spring Fever (2009); Tape (2010); and Why the Flower is so Red (2011). Bumming in Beijing is considered to be pivotal to China’s independent documentary movement. Through a series of interviews, it creates an eminent portrayal of a generation of artists, who talk about their hopes and dreams, the hardships they face, and their existential anxieties. In 2009, Oxhide2 (the sequel to Liu Jiayin’s Oxhide from 2005) and Spring Fever both premiered at Cannes Film Festival.

Oxide2 was named one of the best Chinese films in the 2000s by film critic Shelly Kraicer. Beijing-born Jiayin has a minimalist approach in that the whole film is set in her family’s claustrophobic apartment, takes place in real time and the plot revolves around the family’s joint preparation of Chinese dumplings. The result is a realistic insight into the ordinary life of Chinese family. Spring Fever emerged as a controversial film considering its director Lou Ye defied a state work ban by producing it. The film was banned in China and features a homosexual love story. An investigator is hired to spy on a homosexual man, but later becomes sexually involved with the boyfriend of the man he’s investigating.

At ÉCU we love supporting indie filmmakers who have a real vocation and show dedication, passion and creativity. We hope to see lots more great independently made movies which go out on a limb and think that the Chinese indie film scene is bursting with exemplary work!

Gill Gillespie


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