Chinese film pulled from Palm Springs fest

China Film Group yanks 'City of Life and Death'

BEIJING -- State-run China Film Group has pulled "City of Life and Death" from the Palm Springs International Film Festival to protest the event's inclusion of a film about the Dalai Lama, director Lu Chuan said Wednesday.

The episode is the latest incidence of the Chinese government interfering with the participation of Chinese films at international festivals.

Festival director Darryl Macdonald said he had rejected a request by Chinese government representatives to cancel the screening of "The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet's Struggle for Freedom," a documentary by directors Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam.

"We cannot allow the concerns of one country or community to dictate what films we should or should not play, based on their own cultural or political perspective," Macdonald said in a statement.

Also withdrawn from Palm Springs was debut Chinese director Ye Kai's film "Quick, Quick, Slow," a comedy about elderly amateur dancers.

In July, Chinese directors came under government pressure to withdraw their films from the Melbourne International Film Festival to protest a film about the life of Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer, who, like the Dalai Lama, is considered a separatist by Beijing.

In Sept, the controversial Australian documentary about Kadeer, called "Ten Conditions of Love," was dropped from the Kaohsiung Film Festival in Taiwan after organizers felt pressure from Beijing, which considers the self-governed island a renegade province.

"My feelings are very complicated," Lu told The Hollywood Reporter. "On the one hand I'm very grateful to the film festival for giving my film greater exposure, on the other hand, when it comes to Tibet and politics, we directors have no choice but to stand together with our film company."

State-run China Film is the largest producer and distributor of films in China and holds great sway over the careers of many young directors who have come up under its influence.

"City of Life and Death," about the Nanjing massacre of Chinese citizens by invading Japanese troops in 1937 earned 180 million yuan ($26.5 million) at the Chinese boxoffice in 2009, catapulting Lu into the commercial limelight.

Soon after, Lu was signed by the Creative Artists Agency in the United States, which then brokered China Film's sale of the film last year to National Geographic, which hopes to screen the film theatrically beginning in March.

"It's my dream that the film get a theatrical distribution in the U.S." he said, hopeful that such a deal was near to closure.

Lu said an official from China Film's foreign affairs department tried to reach him last week while he was on holiday with his family to explain why the company would boycott Palm Springs by pulling the film, known in Chinese as "Nanjing! Nanjing!"

"She didn't give me the name of the government department that demanded China Film pull the movie, but she intimated that it had to do with Tibet and politics," Lu said, adding that he hoped at some later date to discuss the episode in private with whomever made the decision to pull his film.

The China Film official, reached by telephone, said the issue was "complicated" and declined further comment and permission to use her name in print.

"Sun Behind the Clouds" is scheduled to screen in Palm Springs this week.

"I have absolutely no knowledge of the film they're talking about," Lu said.

Another film about Nanjing, the German-Chinese co-production "John Rabe" was scheduled to show at the festival. The Chinese half of that film was the Beijing based Huayi Brothers Pictures, the first publicly-listed movie company in China.

The festival runs Jan. 5-18.