By now, almost everyone knows that Chinese commercial film is booming. Even with the recent slowdown in the amazing growth of the Chinese film industry’s explosion of screens, box office receipts, and blockbuster profits, the demands of popular, profit-making cinema have fundamentally reshaped the work of China’s filmmakers. In the small zones that commerce (and government censorship) has still left alone around the margins of Chinese cinema, non-commercial filmmaking, or Chinese indie filmmaking, or as we’re calling it, cinema that’s ‘not for commercial use’ is still thriving. This small sidebar is an attempt to give Far East Film Festival audiences a look at some of the best of Chinese art and indie filmmaking over the past three years.
We’ve put together a package that represents a whirlwind tour of indie genres: the beautiful fiction feature Knife in the Clear Water (2016) by Wang Xuebo, Zhang Zanbo’s electric indie documentary The Road (2015), and two artful experimental animation shorts: young director Liu Haoge’s prize winning Fish Tank (2016), and renowned young artist Sun Xun’s glorious What Happened in Past Dragon Year (2015).
What these films share is a fierce dedication to an uncompromising expression of their young directors’ visions, and a passionate engagement with the reality of China today: “China Now”. Each of the four responds to China now in unique, essential, vitally engaged ways, reflecting the lighting-fast changing realities of the world’s most dynamic, most complicated, and arguably the world’s most creatively explosive country. The commercial Chinese film industry works hard (and sometimes brilliantly) to satisfy the emerging Chinese audience’s desire for fresh, vital, exciting and entertaining movies in a range of popular genres. But other Chinese film artists chose to work, for whatever reasons, outside of the mainstream markets, where there is room for experimentation, the expression of individual voices, and where the strict exigencies of market economics don’t dominate. There are interesting moves afoot this year to establish both local Chinese art film festivals (see Jia Zhangke’s upcoming Pingyao Film Festival) and to open a chain of art house cinemas. One hopes that these new institutions and pathways will start to provide space for Chinese art and indie cinema to find local audiences at commercial venues throughout the country (for now, the primary audience for films like these remains, paradoxically, outside of China, at international film festivals). We’re delighted to be able to anticipate that trend here, and provide you here, at the Far East Film Festival, with a spotlight on brave, exciting and innovative cinema that celebrates, with Chinese voices, a thrilling, unpredictable, and thoroughly enjoyable independent spirit.