Censors, Mers put damper on Shanghai International Film Festival

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 June, 2015, 11:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 June, 2015, 11:02pm


Jackie Chan, Mike Tyson, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Chinese actress Fan Bingbing walked the red carpet as a somewhat subdued Shanghai International Film Festival got under way last weekend.

Concerns about an outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome in South Korea and the removal of a Japanese movie at the behest of Chinese censors put a damper on the 18th annual event, which for years was the only substantial film festival in China until Beijing launched one in 2011.

Both festivals are under government control, but the cities are intense rivals, despite the contention of festival general manager Fu Wenxia: "The Shanghai International Film Festival is not in competition with Beijing … or any other film festival worldwide."

But other attendees said senior Chinese authorities were pouring significant resources into raising the profile of the Beijing affair, held in April.

Unlike last year, when Transformers: Age of Extinction closed out the Shanghai festival, no major new Hollywood blockbuster is included in the programme, which features more than 300 films. Natalie Portman, Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman were among the Western celebrities in attendance last year, but few US, European or Australian stars were expected this time.

And unlike recent years, when panel discussions were stacked with LA studio executives and Hollywood veterans eager to talk about cross-border cooperation, the focus this year has been on the entry of Chinese internet players into the entertainment space, the expanding slates of movies from Chinese studios and producers, and how trends like "big data" are influencing the Chinese industry.

Still, the Motion Picture Association of America threw its annual American Film Night party, where US ambassador to China Max Baucus hobnobbed with former Senate colleague and now MPAA chief Christopher Dodd on the eastern bank of the Huangpu River. Guests were invited to watch Jurassic World after the speeches and drinks on Sunday evening.

A contingent from the University of Southern California's (USC) School of Cinematic Arts was in town, announcing a summer screenwriting programme for 20 students in conjunction with Shanghai Tech University.

Professor Yin Jie, vice-president and provost of Shanghai Tech, said the Chinese box office could reach as high as US$8 billion this year - about 70 per cent of the combined US and Canadian market - but that "coarse content and weak storytelling" continued to be big problems. "Screenwriting is one of the weakest links," he said, explaining why the school had partnered with USC to launch the programme, which will cost each student US$5,000.

Festival organisers said they intentionally sought to emphasise Asia this year, so it seemed odd that both Japan and South Korea found their participation diminished on the eve of the event.

The Japanese film Attack on Titan was replaced with another Japanese title after it was among 38 foreign animated works deemed excessively violent or pornographic by China's Ministry of Culture.

The closing film today will be the Chinese-Russian co-production Ballet in the Flames of War, directed by Dong Yachun and Nikita Mikhalkov. Organisers said the movie "highlights the friendship between China and Russia through a love story unfolding in the midst of the second world war".

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, known in China as "the war to resist Japanese aggression", and the festival has a group of films devoted to this theme, including Casablanca, German director Volker Schlöndorff's The Tin Drum and Andre Singer's Holocaust documentary, Night Will Fall.

Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev, whose Leviathan was nominated for the foreign-language Oscar this year, heads the jury for the festival's Golden Goblet awards.

Among those in contention for best feature film are Antoine Fuqua's boxing drama Southpaw, in which Jake Gyllenhaal plays a man fighting for personal and professional redemption after a tragic accident.

Los Angeles Times