After wrangling with the authorities all day yesterday, on what was supposed to be the opening of the festival on the rural outskirts of Beijing, this year’s Beijing Independent Film Festival has been cancelled.
There were no melodramatics, no scenes of police clad in riot gear storming the cinema, no histrionic shouts of defiance; just festival director Wang Hongwei, getting progressively more and more drunk in the waning light beneath a banyan tree, pleading with two police officers to allow the festival to go ahead. Then a little after 10pm, an announcement was made.
A deal had been struck. The directors, jury, and invited guests of the festival, among them those who had taken the train from Xinjiang or been flown in all the way from Sweden and Iran, would be handed out DVDs containing the entire programme of films. We would be permitted to watch them, on computer screens or televisions, in groups of two or three, but no more than five.
We would have to sign contracts promising to abide by these conditions, or face the consequences. If the organisers didn’t agree these conditions, and tried to go ahead with the festival anyway, the electricity from the entire village of Songzhuang would be cut, and Wang Hongwei would be put in prison. Fifteen years ago, Wang played the eponymous role in Jia Zhangke’s seminal film The Pickpocket
After the announcement, there was an impromptu funerary march, with the poster of the 10th Beijing Independent Film Festival standing in for a photograph of the deceased. It was led by a woman in her fifties or sixties; she staggered and laughed, perhaps so that she would not cry: here lies the death of independent cinema. It did not die of natural causes.
We expressed our condolences to Wang. 'We're sorry that all the work you put into the festival has been for naught.'
'It is I that should be apologising to you, for there being no festival,' Wang replied.
For updated information see the Li Xianting Film Fund’s Weibo account (Mandarin only); for the (now theoretical) screening schedule click here, and for discussion info click here.