If you think most Chinese films are historical martial arts epics - Zhang Yimou's latest offering, Hero, comes to mind - then it's time for a second look. As well as the action sagas are independent Chinese films that capture the life of ordinary mainlanders, and a festival is focusing on this genre for the first time. Chinese Independents: Mainland Film & Video Festival organised by the Hong Kong Arts Centre is dedicated solely to independent films and video productions from the mainland. The festival, which runs until January 26, features 12 films produced by a new generation of film-makers, and is accompanied by a seminar on the development of independent film-making in China. Some films have been invited to international screenings at the Venice Film Festival and Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival in Japan. 'We have been watching the mainland's independent film development and have wanted to organise a festival on that theme. But we didn't want to select films from a foreign point of view. We wanted someone who's involved in the mainland scene to be the curator,' says Connie Lam Suk-yee, film and video manager at the Hong Kong Arts Centre. The opportunity came up last October when Lam was in Beijing and met Zhang Yaxuan, a mainland film critic and promoter of independent films. Lam invited her to become the curator of the festival. These indie films are not linked to the government film authority. Zhang says independents were booming in the early 1990s, when film academy graduates had no chance of working in the mainstream movie industry. So the graduates ended up making their own films. These film-makers, such as Zhang Yuan (Crazy English), who endured the Cultural Revolution, were the pioneers of independent dramas. Recent talents like Jia Zhangke (Platform), Lou Ye (Suzhou River) and Wang Xiaoshuai (Beijing Bicycle) are gaining in popularity. Documentaries developed in a different way. 'Documentary making is mainstream, as many film-makers have a working relationship with TV stations or are producers. They use the TV station equipment to make their films and some of them are shown on TV,' says Zhang. Usually personal life experiences inspire film-makers and they become the theme of their productions. 'They like to focus on young people living on the fringe of the society, such as rock 'n' roll musicians, disillusioned intellectuals and down-and-out prostitutes,' says Zhang. Work in the film industry has become more vibrant and popular, according to Zhang, because of the use of digital equipment. 'In the past, they could only shoot on either film or Betacam and not many people could afford it. But with the popularity of digital video cameras, more people can make their own films. Most of the films in the festival are shot on digital video, especially the students' work,' says Zhang. Lam hopes the mainland's independent films will broaden Hong Kong people's way of looking at the world. 'China is such a big country and offers a wide variety of talent. Mainlanders' reading habits help them to produce meaningful scripts with philosophical overtones,' says Lam.