Film festivals from New York to Sydney have signed a statement of support for the Beijing Independent Film Festival which was shut down by Chinese authorities over the weekend. Representatives of the Berlin, Rotterdam, New York, Sydney and Torino festivals are among the signatories, as is the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Dennis Lim. Their statement calls upon the relevant Chinese authorities to permit the Beijing fest to “pursue its mission to nurture and exhibit a full range of alternative cinematic voices in China, to allow the festival to operate without interference, and to allow the Li Xianting Film Fund to continue its vital mission of archiving and supporting independent Chinese filmmakers.” I’m here at the Venice Film Festival where I’m told organizers were not asked to join the petition. It is believed that Venice would support such an initiative. In a demonstration of support for Iranian and Ukraine filmmakers who have been arrested in their home countries for political reasons, chairs were left empty during the opening press conference on the Lido.
On Saturday, Chinese police, state security personnel, and representatives of various levels of government contacted and pressured the Beijing Independent Film Festival whose electricity was then cut. Anonymous “villagers” were sent to surround the headquarters and in some cases physically intimidate visitors and journalists. Noted critic and festival sponsor Li Xianting has also reported that the Li Xianting Film Fund’s complete archives were forcibly confiscated by the Chinese police. The archives, indie distributor dGenerate Films says, are likely the most extensive collection within China of independent films and related research materials from the last 10 years. The festival was in its 11th year and has gone through this before as China seeks to control the kind of content being shown inside the country.
Executives at dGenerate, which works with independent Chinese titles, also added their names to the statement and posted the memo to their website. They call the Beijing fest “a renowned resource to discover exciting new works of Chinese cinema.”