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Independent film festivals around the world are usually bustling affairs. This was not so in the case of the Sixth Beijing Independent Film Festival.
The week-long event, scheduled to start last weekend, dampened down all its advertising for fear of being banned (not uncommon in China). The 120-odd films, including a showcase from Africa, do not have the government’s seal of approval for public exhibition and thus, if the event if big enough, is likely to incur the wrath of the authorities. The exact venue was kept secret until the opening day. A close friend of a director told me about it. When I asked if he was going he replied: “I’m not even sure it’s going to take place. They’re not even not sure it’s going to take place. It’s supposed to be in Songzhuang [an art district at the far fringes of Beijing’s eastern suburbs]. They’re not allowed to have a website or any promotion. It’s ridiculous. I heard they’ll only send round a text on the day to say if they can hold it so I’m not sure.”
As it turned out they did hold it. TIME magazine’s Austin Ramzy was there. Here’s what happened in Ramzy’s words:
The opening was held outside because the police forced at least two changes of venue, first from a local arts center and then from a hotel
Then the cops arrived. A local official walked into one of the makeshift theatres and demanded, ‘What are you doing here? What are you watching?’ The audience didn’t respond. Outside in the courtyard about a dozen police officers milled around, demanding identification from attendees…
The cops didn’t shut down the event, but they tried their hardest to make it clear that everyone was being watched and should probably just go home.
A big of Googling, and I found the original poster for the event which comically morphs a roll of film into a roll of toilet paper, no doubt an ironic reflection on some level of how the authorities view the festival’s illegitimate films.