China Shuts Down Independent Film Festival in Beijing

Illustration by: Lars Leetaru

Organizers experienced what is now an annual crackdown on their indie fest

Chinese authorities have once again shut down the 11th Beijing Independent Film Festival on its opening day, as the government keeps a tight leash on movies outside the state-approved system.

The festival tries to offer a platform for independent cinema, but for many months now, China's ruling Communist Party has been tightening the screws on dissenting views, including movies from outside the highly monitored and heavily regulated Chinese film industry.

Critic Li Xianting, one of the organizers of the Beijing Independent Film Festival, told The Associated Press that police searched his office and confiscated materials he had gathered over more than 10 years.

The organizers said they had been repeatedly warned to cancel the festival, which was supposed to run until the end of the month.

Li and the festival's artistic director, Wang Hongwei, who is a regular in Jia Zhangke movies, were later detained by police, according to tweets by their supporters.

The festival has taken place on and off since 2006 in the Beijing suburb of Songzhuang, home to many artists' studios and galleries, but has faced repeated pressure from the government.

Shuttering the festival has become an annual game of cat and mouse with the authorities. Last year, visitors were allowed to watch DVDs in small groups, and the previous year officials cut electricity to the event. For the past four years, the Beijing government has organized a large film fest in the capital, which attracts lots of Hollywood talent and presents the official version of the film business in China.

This year, the crackdown is much more serious, Wang said.

"In the past few years when they forced us to cancel the festival, we just moved it to other places, or delayed the screenings," he said to The Associated Press. "But this year, we cannot carry on with the festival. It is completely forbidden."

Officials claiming to be villagers blocked access to the site, intimidating reporters trying to enter, and the AP said that one of its journalists had a camera broken and a cell phone confiscated.

There were efforts last week to move the festival to a hotel in Hebei province, near Beijing, but there were problems with the venue.