Chinese authorities again pull plug on Beijing film festival

Men work to prevent would-be filmgoers from entering the site of Beijing Independent Film Festival after it was shut down.
(Julie Makinen / Los Angeles Times)

Once again, authorities in China have shut down the Beijing Independent Film Festival.

A modest affair held in a distant eastern suburb of the Chinese capital in the artist town of Songzhuang, the event is intended to give auteurs of documentaries, feature films and experimental movies the chance to present their works to an appreciative audience. But this weekend, officials pulled the plug on the 11th attempted edition of the festival before it could even get underway.

On Saturday, dozens of men blocked directors and audience members from entering the screening venue, a small film center down a dusty narrow road lined with artists’ workshops and galleries. A notice was affixed to the door, reading: “Announcement. The festival is hereby called off.” It was signed by the Xiaopu Village Committee.


On Sunday, at least six men were stationed at the door to the Li Xianting Film Fund, where the festival was to be held. Eleven films and multiple Q&A sessions scheduled for the day were called off. Asked why the event had been canceled, one of the men blocking the entrance said: “There is no why. Now leave.”

Asked if the festival -- which was scheduled to run through Aug. 31 -- might resume Monday, he said no, and ordered two visitors not to take photos of the building or the notice on the door.

Reached by phone Sunday, Wang Hongwei, an organizer of the festival, and Fan Rong, the chief administrator, said they could not discuss the situation. The Voice of America’s Chinese-language service reported that authorities had entered the Film Fund’s premises and taken away computers as well as films.

In an interview last week, Wang said that authorities this year had seemed stricter than in years past, with police as well as representatives of the government tax bureau making multiple inquiries about the event starting three or four months ago.

“They came and asked if we were selling tickets, if we would have income. I replied that it’s totally free,” Wang said, noting it was the first time tax bureau officials had queried him.

“We have the same problems every year,” he said, trying to strike a note of hopefulness. “We have to try to do our best to ensure a smooth operation based on past experiences.”


The festival shows films that have not been approved by government censors and has since its founding 11 years ago faced government pressure and last-minute cancellations from venues wanting to avoid controversy.

Some years have been more absurd than others: In 2012, power to the screening venue was cut. Last year, after the opening movie was blocked, Wang said the scheduled film discussions would be allowed to go ahead but films could only be shown to small groups of no more than five people.

The festival moved out of the city center seven years ago to Songzhuang, giving supporters hope that it would be subject to less harassment, but that has not been the case, even though the venue is hard to find and can only accommodate a very small audience.

In addition to Chinese films, this year’s edition was to present a special selection of Japanese films as well as a Filipino film section.

Li Xianting, the film fund head, said on his WeChat social media account that Wang and Fan were detained by police Friday for about five hours.

In the days leading up to the festival, Li wrote, representatives of the police, the Ministry of Education, the Trade and Industry Bureau and the tax bureau all visited to inquire about his film foundation. Village officials also arrived and suggested moving the festival to Hebei province, outside of Beijing. But a provisional agreement to relocate the event to a hotel was scrapped when the venue was told by police the film festival could not be held there.

On the eve of the festival, Li said, village officials informed him of their intent to cut power to his premises. And immigration officials went to his office to inquire about paperwork for the foreign directors invited to the event.

Asked last week why he keeps attempting to organize the festival despite such obstacles, Wang said simply: “Because I think it’s significant.”

Nicole Liu in the Times’ Beijing bureau contributed to this report.