This week, several Chinese directors, including world-renowed independent film director Jia Zhangke, abruptly withdrew their works from screening at the upcoming Melbourne International Film Festival, which starts today and runs through Aug. 9. Organizers of the Melbourne International Film Festival touts the festaival as “a feast of cinematic delicacies from over 50 countries,” making this result that much more tragic.
According to this Reuters report:
Three Chinese films have been withdrawn from Australia’s biggest film festival in an apparent boycott after China’s government protested over the inclusion of a documentary about restive ethnic Uighurs.
Chinese consular staff last week contacted organisers of the Melbourne International Film Festival to demand they dump a film about exiled Uighur businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer, blamed by Beijing for instigating this month’s ethnic riots in Xinjiang.
Now three Chinese films, “Perfect Life,” “Petition” and “Cry Me a River”, have been withdrawn in protest at Kadeer’s planned attendance at the festival next month.
“It’s a terrible inconvenience but more than that, beyond the inconvenience, it’s a terrible thing to happen to the festival that all this political pressure has been brought on us this year,” festival organiser Richard Moore told state radio.
“Perfect Life” producer Jia Zhangke, whose company was also behind “Cry Me a River”, wrote to Moore to say he had withdrawn both films to protest against Kadeer’s involvement.
The third film, “Petition”, depicts the struggle of ordinary Chinese battling the country’s corrupt bureaucracy.
China’s consulate in Melbourne telephoned Moore last week to insist the documentary “The 10 Conditions of Love” be withdrawn ahead of its Aug. 8 premiere.
The documentary tells of Kadeer’s relationship with activist husband Sidik Rouzi and the fallout on her 11 children of her push for more autonomy for China’s 10 million mainly Muslim Uighurs. Three of her children have been jailed.
“We stick by our guns. We’ll play it and we won’t bow to that form of bullying,” said Moore after the boycott became clear. China’s government accuses Kadeer’s World Uighur Congress of being a front for extremist militants pushing for a separate East Turkistan homeland. She was arrested in 1999 and found guilty of “providing secret information to foreigners”.
At the center of the controversy is a documentary film called 10 Conditions of Love. The UHRP has this description of the film:
THE 10 CONDITIONS OF LOVE is a story of a woman, a man, a family, a people and a homeland. It is the story of Rebiya Kadeer, China’s nightmare, the woman it accuses of inciting terrorism.
It is also the story of the other Tibet, the Muslim Tibet – the country its people call East Turkestan, but which the Chinese call Xinjiang Province – the other stain on China’s moral character.
It is a big story: a story of the ruthless oppression of 20-million people; of the global politics of energy; of Super Power politicking over the War on Terror; and of the pain of a deeply loving family torn violently apart.
Exiled in the US, Rebiya Kadeer is fighting for the human rights of her people, the Uyghur (pron. wee-ger), China’s oppressed Muslim minority. But Rebiya Kadeer’s campaign condemns her sons to on-going solitary confinement in a Chinese prison. Having done six years’ solitary herself, she understands the appalling consequences for them of her actions – but she will not relent.
Twice nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, once the richest businessperson in China, Rebiya Kadeer is a remarkable woman who pays daily a terrible price for patriotism.
And it will never be over.
A film by Jeff Daniels
An Arcimedia and Common Room Production
According to this report from the WSJ,
Festival director Moore told [reporters] that he was unable to confirm whether the filmmakers had been pressured by [Chinese] authorities to steer clear of Melbourne.
The directors who pulled out of the festival are not exactly known for bowing to Beijing’s orders. Jia started his career making semi-legal underground films, and his work often takes a critical view of China’s massive modernization project, while Zhao Liang’s documentary, 12 years in the making, tackled the sensitive topics of corruption and injustice in China’s legal system.
Personally, I believe that each of the Chinese directors pulled out of the festival according to each person’s own conscience. For many Chinese, it is not a stretch to compare Kadeer to Osama bin Laden. If you can understand that, imagine how incensed American film directors would be about going to a film festival that featured a documentary that glorified Al Quaeda and bin Landen in the immediate aftermath of the 911.
Nevertheless, regardless of how justified (or not) the directors may have felt about Kadeer, I believe it is a mistake for the directors to withdraw from this film festival. According to Time, “Festival Director Richard Moore [having] refused demands by the Chinese Embassy to drop the film [also] hung up on an official who called last week to insist he justify its inclusion.” Thus not only have the Chinese people lost face, but also another opportunity to build bridges and to share their stories with the rest of the world.
The Chinese people must learn to interact with the world better. Now people who go to the festival will see Kadeer’s film (and perhaps her in person also), but nowhere in the festival would there be any Chinese presence.
The Kadeer documentary film was most likely made and entered into the Australian Film Festival long before the Xinjiang events (or planning for the event, as the case may be) earlier this month. Yes – the Chinese government should have asked the film to be withdrawn in the wake of recent events. Whether organizers of the Festival comply, the point would have been made. The directors should however have stuck to their original roles and shown up and shared their films with the world.
That’s my two cents. What do people think?
- Should the Kadeer film be shown in the festival?
- Should politically motivated documentaries in general have a place in “cultural” devents such as the Melbourne International Film Festival?
- Should the Chinese government have demanded the film to be removed?
- Should the Chinese directors, despite their strong wounded pride and sense of justice, have persisted and stayed in the film festival?
- Does the withdraw successful send a message to the world? What is the message?