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Asian film industry veteran Roger Garcia has signed on to serve as the startup Hainan International Film Festival’s top artistic advisor.
The event, held in the tropical resort city of Sanya in China’s southernmost province, held its inaugural edition in December. The fest is said to have generous backing from the regional Hainan government, and organizers are promising an expanded range of programming for 2019.
The hiring of Garcia, a co-founder and former head of the Hong Kong International Film Festival, will give the Chinese event an instant boost of credibility in the Asian film community. A producer, film scholar and occasional screenwriter, Garcia helmed HKIFF for eight years, and he is a familiar, respected presence at industry events and symposia across the region.
Garcia will be supported in Hainan by an advisory team including Elizabeth Lequeret, a critic and former advisor to the Berlin International Film Festival; Hollywood veteran Barry Sabath, now a senior lecturer at the AFI Conservatory; and Clarence Tsui, a Hong Kong-based critic for The Hollywood Reporter.
Organizers are promising to build Hainan into a multidimensional, world-class film festival. Set to run Dec. 1-8, the next edition will feature an international competition section and an awards ceremony known as the “Golden Coconuts.” Various non-competitive strands also are expected, along with a film market headed by Pascal Diot, who has organized similar activities at the Cannes, Venice and Dubai festivals.
The Hainan fest will be entering a crowded end-of-year industry calendar. The event’s dates directly overlap with the Macau International Film Festival, which is set to run Dec. 5-10 in the former Portuguese colony turned Chinese casino enclave. The Macau event was launched just four years ago with a very similar remit — to leverage its location’s status as a tourism destination into a marquee cultural event for Greater China.
Hainan will need to inspire industry professionals to shake off festival fatigue, given how packed the fall season already is with established events around Asia. A sampling: Busan International Film Festival (Oct. 3-12), Jia Zhangke’s Pingyao Film Festival (Oct. 10-19), Mumbai International Film Festival (Oct. 17-24), Tokyo International Film Festival (Oct. 28-Nov. 5), Singapore International Film Festival (Nov. 21-Dec.1) and Luang Prabang Film Festival (Dec. 8-13).
Garcia also will be assuming the helm of Hainan at an ominous time for creative freedom in the Chinese film industry. High-profile Chinese films have been forced to make embarrassing last-minute withdrawals from leading film festivals at home and abroad throughout 2019 due to increasingly aggressive suppression by Beijing’s censors. Renowned director Zhang Yimou’s latest feature, One Second, was yanked from competition at the Berlinale in February due to its setting during a politically sensitive period of Chinese history. And China’s biggest tentpole of the summer — Huayi Brothers’ $80 million war epic The Eight Hundred — was similarly pulled last month from the Shanghai International Film Festival, where it was set to make its world premiere as the event’s opening film.
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