Berlin fest gets director's cut of 'Beijing'

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After weeks of wrangling with Chinese censors, the producer of Li Yu's Competition entry "Lost in Beijing" finally screened the uncut version to Berlin International Film Festival audiences on Friday despite lacking explicit approval from Beijing.

A print of the film with the 15 minutes of cuts requested by the censors had arrived in the German capital ahead of the first press screening. But producer Fang Li said he simply ran out of time to finish the subtitling in both English and German and so had to hand the director's cut to festival organizers.

Fang said Sunday he so far had received no reaction from Beijing over screening the uncut version, ostensibly in violation of the authorities there. "It's a big holiday in China (for Chinese New Year), and that may help us," he said.

He added that he didn't expect that either he or director Li would receive any ban or other punishment for defying the censors' wishes. "I really don't think so. If the film had won an award, we might have had a problem," Fang said.

The producer said Li had left the decision to him over which version would unspool.

Paris-based sales company Films Distribution had screened the uncut version of "Beijing" to buyers in a market screening earlier in the week. The sex drama was deemed to contain nothing that would shock Western audiences, and the opinion of critics after the festival screenings seemed to bear this out.

This was not Fang's first risk with taking a young Chinese director overseas in defiance of Beijing. He took "Summer Palace" to Cannes last May, and Beijing subsequently banned director Lou Ye from moviemaking in China for five years. That film addressed the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Teng Jimeng, professor of film and American studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University, says this time Fang's tactics in getting Li's film to market "virtually put the censors up against the wall."

"With 'Summer Palace' and 'Beijing,' producer-centered filmmaking is on the rise, and that adds weight to the battle against the censors," Teng said. "It is even a new practice for them to deal with such a character intent on confrontation instead of compromise."

Charles Masters reported from Paris, Jonathan Landreth reported from Beijing.
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