Documentary about Chinese Alzheimer’s sufferer wins Locarno Film Festival’s top prize

Wang Bing takes the Golden Leopard award for his exploration of the final days of a dementia sufferer living in rural China

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 August, 2017, 5:56pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2017, 8:48am

A new documentary by the Chinese director Wang Bing was awarded the Golden Leopard prize at the 70th annual Locarno Festival held in Switzerland on Sunday.

Mrs Fang looks at the final days of a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s in an impoverished village in southern China, and the impact on her relatives, friends and neighbours in the tight-knit rural community.

The hard-hitting documentary and portrait of death has been praised for daring to break long-held taboos surrounding mourning and mental illness in China.

The festival’s prize jury was led by the renowned French filmmaker Olivier Assayas, who recently directed Personal Shopper, starring Kristen Stewart.

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Originally born in Xi’an, Wang is today regarded as one of the foremost pioneers of Chinese documentary filmmaking and has several international prizes under his belt. His films are known for their unflinching portraits of working-class Chinese life.

He told the festival’s website that he regarded the award as a “great and deep honour”.

Wang is the fifth director from Hong Kong or mainland China to have won the top prize at Locarno, with the most recent winners being Hongqui Li’s Winter Vacation in 2010 and Xiaolu Guo’s She, a Chinese in 2009.

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Films that do not pass China’s strict guidelines for “acceptable” content are often censored by authorities, with screenings of independent Chinese documentaries banned altogether on the mainland.

Some high-profile examples that have been banned in recent years include Hu Jie’s Spark, which reveals the horrors of the Great Famine, and Fan Popo’s 2012 documentary Mama Rainbow, which examines contemporary LGBT issues in China.

More recently, a Beijing student director was banned from screening her film about the life of a transgender boy at her high school’s film festival.

However, this has not stopped documentary-makers from earning widespread critical acclaim from screenings at major international film festivals.

The Chinese film industry has experienced a boom in recent years and currently stands as the world’s second-largest film market.