Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke eyes Oscars after rare domestic showing for latest film

Jia's Mountains May Depart is a contender for foreign language Academy Award

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 September, 2015, 8:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 September, 2015, 11:22am

Chinese director Jia Zhangke is submitting his new work Mountains May Depart as a contender for next year’s Oscars.

According to Academy Award rules, his film is required to have had at least a one-week commercial run to qualify as China’s representative in the Oscars’ foreign language category. Mountains May Depart had a limited run in Shanghai cinemas between September 8 and 14.

Jia’s latest film is his first work to be screened publicly in mainland China since his 2010 documentary I Wish I Knew; his last film, A Touch of Sin (2013), was abruptly denied a release even after it had passed Chinese censors. If nominated, the relation drama starring Zhao Tao, Zhang Yi and Liang Jingdong will mark the auteur’s first taste of being an Academy Award contender.

“Our producer is quite interested to try the Oscars,” says Jia. “Of course, since I’ve never had the opportunity to take part in the Oscar race as a director, I’m very much interested as well. I think we’ll try to push for that. As the rules state that we have to screen it for a week before October 1, we’re proceeding accordingly.”

Jia is currently fulfilling jury duties alongside filmmakers Claire Denis and Agnieszka Holland at the Toronto International Film Festival for its new section “Platform”, named after Jia’s film from 2000.

Since I’ve never had the opportunity to take part in the Oscar race as a director, I’m very much interested as well
JIa Zhangke

Mountains May Depart also received its North American premiere this week in the Toronto festival’s “Special Presentations” section. Charting the cultural and emotional journeys that its characters take from 1999 to 2014 and then 2025, the film premiered in competition in Cannes earlier this year.

However, Jia’s Oscar dreams may be tempered by uncertainties at China’s Film Bureau.

“I’ve heard rumours that Wolf Totem [directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud] has been confirmed as the representative. But I feel that couldn’t be right. It’s not over until October 1,” he says.

The fact Mountains May Depart has been domestically released is enough of a major change of fortune for Jia. He said: “The focus of A Touch of Sin was to investigate the issue of violence in Chinese society. It portrayed the violence among the less privileged – and that made some people uncomfortable.”

In contrast, Mountains had passed censors before it competed for the Golden Palm at Cannes Film Festival in May. The film is now scheduled for a nationwide release in mainland China on October 30.

“I’m quite happy about this,” says Jia. “The last film [that the mainland Chinese audiences] saw was I Wish I Knew, from five years ago. Many of them have since been denied the chance to watch my films on the big screen. This is an opportunity to share the message of my film with them.”