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Feng Xiaogang's 'Back to 1942' to Screen at Rome Film Festival

Feng Xiaogang
Courtesy of CineAsia
Feng Xiaogang

The film, about a deadly famine that left 3 million dead in China 70 years ago, stars Adrien Brody and Tim Robbins along with an all-star Chinese cast.

ROME – Feng Xiaogang’s Yi Wu Si Er (Back to 1942), a story of a devastating famine that struck the country 70 years ago, is the first of two surprise films that will screen in competition at the upcoming International Rome Film Festival, organizers said Monday.

First-year Rome artistic director Marco Mueller said the names of the final two films in the festival’s 15-film international competition were being withheld until the final days before the festival opens in order to escape the reach of censors in the films’ home countries. The second surprise film will be announced later this week, organizers said.

The 54-year-old Feng is one of the talents behind some of China’s biggest blockbusters, and was the first Chinese filmmaker to gross more than 1 billion yuan (around $150 million) in domestic box office receipts.

The film tells the story of a 1942 famine in the Henan province of China caused by a severe drought, combined with windstorms, locusts, earthquakes, disease, and corruption, resulting in at least 3 million deaths. It features a star-studded Chinese cast including Chen Daoming, Li Xuejian and Zhang Guoli, along with two big-name Hollywood stars: Adrien Brody, who will play an American journalist, and Tim Robbins, who will play a Catholic priest.

Both Feng and Brody were on a list of personalities set to attend the festival released last week, but it wasn’t clear at the time what projects they were attached to.

Feng has won many awards in China and elsewhere in Asia, but until now his most high-profile honor in Europe may have been from 2006, when he won a Future Film Festival collateral prize for digitally shot films for Ye yan (The Banquet) -- a loose adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet -- at the Venice Film Festival, which was run by Mueller at the time.

This is the first year the seven-year-old Rome festival is having surprise films. But it’s a tradition Mueller started in 2006, when he was at the Venice Film Festival. In that context, it’s not surprising that at least one of Rome’s surprise films hails from China: in six years of surprise films in Venice, four included films made in either China or Hong Kong.

The Rome festival gets underway Friday and runs through Nov. 17.