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A Noteworthy Film Festival in Guangzhou (posted by Lawrence Li)

There is an on-going festival in Zhonghua Cinema in Guangzhou right now, the title is "Ray of the Avant-Garde" (Xianfeng Guangmang). No, it's not some new new directors playing with hand-painted films or one single still shot of normal street scene lasting one hour. Forget about experimental films, what we have here are straightforward realistic narrative features, mostly from the "6th Generation" of Chinese directors. (Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige are the 5th generation)

The program is motivated by Ms. Cui Qiao, associated with Berlin Film Festival. Cui helps BFF on the Chinese films selection process and hence maintains good relationship with both the directors and the BFF organizers. So what's the big deal here? Despite the fact that most of these films have been screened on BFF, many of them have never been able to obtain license for public screening in mainland China.

However, almost all of these films are available if you dig hard enough. Many are popular items in pirate DVD market (like Kekexili: Mountain Patrol by Lu Chuan, or Beijing Bicycle by Wang Xiaoshuai), some have been distributed among a handful of arthouse film aficionados, usually in the format of burnt VCDs (like Rainclouds Over Wushan by Zhang Ming, which has been made into pirate DVD too later). In 2005, we have witnessed the first few steps towards a more open and free cinema market, and many of these films have obtained their screening licenses. Ray of the Avant-Garde is the first time that mainland Chinese audience would be able to experience many of these films in their original format (mostly 35mm).

So what are these films? Here's the list:

Mama, by Zhang Yuan (opening film)
Beijing Bicycle (Shiqi Sui de Danche), by Wang Xiaoshuai
Peacock (Kong Que), by Gu Changwei
For Fun (Zhao Le), by Ning Ying
On the Beat (Minjing Gushi), by Ning Ying
I Love Beijing (Xiari Nuanyangyang), by Ning Ying
Cala, My Dog! (Kala Shi Tiao Gou), by Lu Xuechang
The Story of Ermei (Jing Zhe), by Wang Quan'an
Lü Cao Di, by Ning Hao
Rainclouds Over Wushan (Wushan Yunyu), by Zhang Ming
Weekend Plot (Miyu Shiqi Xiaoshi), by Zhang Ming
Jie Guo, by Zhang Ming
Plastic Flowers (Chun Hua Kai), by Liu Bingjian
Kekexili: Mountain Patrol, by Lu Chuan

(All Chinese names follow Chinese naming system - surname first, first name last.)

Tickets are sold at a modest 20 yuan, festival pass costs only 150. (In Guangzhou, hollywood blockbusters usually cost 60 - 70 yuan, while in Shenzhen - 300 kilometers south of Guangzhou, the price is 80 yuan - more expensive than Hong Kong.)

Three days ago, director Zhang Yuan, whose film Mama was selected as the opening film, posted this item to his blog, below is my English translation:

The B&W/Colour film Mama was my debut as a director, finished around my graduation days from the Beijing Film Academy, I was 25 then. A few days ago on December 22, a restored digital copy of Mama made its first-ever public screening in Zhonghua Cinema of Guangzhou. It was chosen as the opening film of a film festival sonorously titled "Ray of the Avant-Garde" by the organizers. It means a lot to me that Southern Metropolis Daily, 21cn and Sensei Cui Qiao helped getting this film a public screening at this moment. The first person that introduced the film to the west is the veteran Hong Kong film critic Shu Kei, he's also a good director, with films like Soul (Lao Niang Gou Sao) and Queer Story (Jilao Sishi) on his portfolio. I would never forget his help. We are not close to each other by then, but after watching a VHS copy of Mama, he recommended the film to the director of Nante Festival des Trois Continents, who immediately sent me an invitation, and the film entered the competition section. I still remember how Mr. Wong Kar-wai helped stuffing the heavy film reels into his luggage, carefully brought them abroad for me. Only with these people's help was Mama able to tour the world, getting screened on nearly one hundred film festivals, sometimes as film in competition. In fact, the same copy has been played so many times that it has drastically deteriorated. Thanks to all the friends who have supported me. It's precisely because of all those western screening that I was able to get grants and fund from various foundations in France, Italy, Switzerland, Japan and Netherlands, which enabled me to realize several more movies afterwards, I would like to express my appreciation to them too.

[UPDATE 14:16, Dec 29]

After reading this post, Howie (Yu Xiaoyi) sent to clarify the license/public screening issue of these films. Howie is an entertainment page editor of Southern Metropolis Daily and is responsible for many of the press releases of the festival.

(in translation)

About why these films have not been screened publicly until now:

1. Some of them did get the licenses, but we don't have dedicated arthouse cinema in China, and no distributors would take the financial risk to have them screened in mainstream market.

2. Some of them did get limited public screening before, but only in a short time frame. Examples include Kekexili and the films by Ning Ying (As a matter of fact, On the Beat was chosen as the "recommended film" by the Ministry of Public Security, which is very ironic, because the film is about the alienation of people living under the State apparatus.)