Beijing Film Festival's Major Challenges: Horrible Air Quality, Tech Glitches, Lack of Star Power
And those are only three of the issues that China's biggest movie event is facing.
This story first appeared in the April 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
China's capital city now officially is the heart of the world's second-biggest movie market, and the growing importance of the Beijing International Film Festival (April 17 to 20) reflects that development.
"Beijing is China's cultural center, the center of international relations and the center of the film industry," says Zhao Zhiyong, a senior member of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television and executive deputy secretary general of the Beijing fest.
That might be true, but the event's fifth edition is experiencing growing pains. Only two weeks before its launch, buzz was practically nonexistent — at press time, the festival's complete lineup hadn't even been announced — and with Cannes looming around the corner, Beijing's importance on the global calendar is negligible. Here's a look at the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to this evolving event.
GOOD — The New Head of the Festival
Italian festival veteran Marco Mueller, former artistic director at Rome, Venice and Locarno, has been appointed chief adviser to the Beijing fest, which is seeking to bolster its international cred. Star power certainly would help, but aside from Hollywood A-lister Darren Aronofsky, who is rumored to be attending, this year's big names from overseas skew decidedly regional: Hong Kong auteur Tsui Hark; Jung Tae-Sung, president of South Korean film powerhouse CJ Entertainment; Amanda Nevill, CEO of the British Film Institute; and Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who is directing Kung Fu Panda 3 for DreamWorks Animation.
GOOD — The Competition
French director Luc Besson, who scored a big hit in China with 2014's Lucy, will chair the international jury that determines the Tiantan Awards at the close of the festival. The prizes clearly have risen in stature, with 930 titles submitted for consideration from 90 countries. The 15 competition films include two major Chinese titles: Tsui's The Taking of Tiger Mountain and Jean-Jacques Annaud's China-France co-production Wolf Totem.
BAD — The Traffic
Progress has been made in keeping traffic flowing, and the quality of driving has improved: The sight of a car going in reverse on a freeway off-ramp, once common, has become rare. But prepare for lengthy commutes by auto (note: Uber now operates in Beijing). The subway near the festival hotel is a faster way to get around but can be stiflingly crowded during peak times.
BAD — The Internet
If you can't live without social media, then you might need to arm yourself with a virtual private network (VPN), which will allow you (legally) to skirt one of the world's most sophisticated online censorship mechanisms, known colloquially as the "Great Firewall of China." China is home to 649 million web users, and the government is keen to restrict the commercial freedoms the online world offers. Prepare for sluggish load times, and forget about Facebook, Google, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and The New York Times — they're all banned.
UGLY — The Air Quality
In February, data from the environmental protection ministry showed nearly 90 percent of China's big cities failed to meet government air-quality standards in 2014, and Beijing is no exception. If you're not sure whether to go out on a smoggy day, it's helpful to check the China AQI app in the morning to see if you need to don a mask. No need to pack one: They're sold everywhere.
Dumplings: A Beijing Must
41 Di'anmen East St., Dongcheng district
President Xi Jinping has given this restaurant his seal of approval. With more than 60 years of history, its steamed buns (baozi) are beloved, its liver soup legendary.
Xian Lao Man
252 Andingmen Inner St., Dongcheng district
As locals say, "If you have never eaten Xian Lao Man dumplings, you are not a real Beijinger." The laoman dumpling is the signature here; the filling — the restaurant has more than 60 — is mixed with chicken soup.
Din Tai Fung
Parkview Green, Chaoyang district
It's not a local restaurant — it's actually a Taiwan chain — but its dumplings are essential. Go with the traditional shrimp or pork, or get adventurous and try such imaginative new fillings as truffles and foie gras.