Pens poised over Beijing's Farewell ban

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 August, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 August, 1993, 12:00am

WHEN Farewell To My Concubine won the Palme D'Or at Cannes, it legitimised director Chen Kaige in the eyes of the West. He was signed on by the William Morris Agency, and the profile writers sat up and took notice.

Now, with the film's ban by Beijing, Hollywood is outraged. According to a source close to the film-maker, a ''letters'' campaign is tentatively being organised, as was the case in 1990 when director Zhang Yimou was having difficulties over the Oscar nomination of his film Judou.

At that time, Judou was nominated for Best Foreign Film but the Chinese Government tried to withdraw the film, banned its domestic release and forbade Zhang to attend the awards ceremony.

Hollywood was up in arms. US distributor Miramax Films, trying to prove that the pen is mightier than even a communist regime, sent a petition to China's Ministry of Radio, Film and Television urging it to change its policy, repeal the ban and allow Zhang to attend.

The petition was signed by many of Hollywood's movers and shakers including Oliver Stone, Woody Allen, Robert De Niro, Richard Gere, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese and Joanne Woodward.

They were not alone. Eleven American senators jumped on the Sino-Hollywood bandwagon. They urged the Chinese Government to allow the film and its director to receive the kudos they deserved from Hollywood's elite. A UK anti-censorship group, Article 19, also asked that China stop trying to have the film disqualified from the nominations. Although the film was eventually nominated for the Oscar, it did not win the award.

Whether such tactics work this time around for Farewell remains to be seen. Those involved in the film have their sights set higher, anyway. Even if Beijing remains unmoved, it is just the kind of hype that the Academy Awards find favourable. With the film scheduled for its US release in the autumn, campaigning for an Oscar nomination begins not long after.

Meanwhile, Zhang has stayed far away from the furore and fuss over Farewell. Ensconced in the small village of Longshou in Shaanxi province, several hours from Xi'an, Zhang has begun filming his next movie. With a working title of To Live, it follows a family through 40 years of political and cultural upheaval.

Sound familiar? ERA producer Barbara Robinson told The Guide that the content was definitely not political, but more descriptive. It was Zhang's thesis on how the Chinese race had survived for so long, she said.

Gong Li is playing the wife. Ge You, fresh from the success of his role as a patron of the arts in Farewell, plays the husband.

The cameras started rolling this week. So far, so good, according to Robinson. ''Everything got set up just fine. Everyone is happy,'' she said.

The film's release is expected to be mid-1994. Whether that will include China is, of course, another story.