China censors get an ultimatum
Producer of banned 'Beijing': Pic is going to BerlinThe producer of "Lost in Beijing," banned last week from the Berlin International Film Festival, on Monday resubmitted rising female director Li Yu's film to China's censors for a fifth time with an ultimatum: "Work with us or force us underground."
Last week, censors told producer Fang Li that "Beijing," a film about two families — one rich, one poor — thrust together by a rape and a pregnancy will not go to the Berlinale with Beijing's blessing (HR 2/2).
"I told them we are going to Berlin no matter what," Fang said in a telephone interview.
No stranger to difficulty in China, Fang also produced "Summer Palace," a film by Lou Ye that last year addressed the politically taboo 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and drew the director a five-year filmmaking ban for going to the Festival de Cannes unapproved.
Fang said he would hear from censors again shortly and that he had a plan if they refused to budge on Li's "Beijing."
"I will go underground," he said. "There is no law in China against citizens making films, only regulations that bear no weight outside the state system. If I get banned, I can change the name of my company and start over."
After "Summer Palace" drew Beijing much unwanted public attention last year, Fang said, "any film that wins an international award from an A-list festival is going to draw attention from the higher-ups concerned with China losing face through film."
Ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China's government is increasingly mindful of its image, shutting down Web sites and firing and jailing journalists who challenge Communist Party authority.
Ironically, it was just a few weeks ago that Wang Taihua, the chief of the State Administration of Radio Film and Television, called for more overseas sales of Chinese films, the expansion of China's global movie market share and the raising of the nation's profile at international festivals, the SARFT Web site said in an item about an annual film industry meeting.
Fang said the characters in "Beijing," led by actors Tony Leung and Fan Bingbing, are too subtle for the clear-cut good-vs.-evil tastes of the censors, often a group of about a dozen party cadres unfamiliar with filmmaking.
"You know why they made us call the film 'Pinguo'?" Fang asked, referring to the Mandarin word for "apple" and the name of one of the film's characters. "Because they told us there was no way to be 'lost in Beijing.' "
Multiple queries to SARFT on Monday were transferred to the propaganda department, where a clerk, who said she was told not to speak about "Beijing," declined comment."
Fang dismissed the notion that he might have planned the controversy around his films to draw attention overseas, where he is more likely to recoup his investment.
"We'd never have the money to plan two versions, one for China and one for festivals, subtitled and ready," Fang said.
Fang said he had to borrow for the postproduction on the $1.6 million "Beijing" after Emperor Pictures in Hong Kong, upon hearing of the ban, withdrew an offer of equity in exchange for Southeast Asian sales rights.
Whatever happens to "Beijing" in China, Fang said he could not yet say what version of Li's third film would screen in Berlin, where it remains on the program.
A spokeswoman for the Berlinale on Monday said the festival would screen "whatever version of the film the producers (of 'Beijing') deliver to us." The festival declined comment on the controversy with the Chinese censors.
Scott Roxborough in Cologne, Germany, contributed to this report.