Chinese films pulled from Melbourne fest

Uighur documentary brought Chinese pressure, withdrawal

Three Chinese films were pulled from the Melbourne International Film Festival program Tuesday in the wake of pressure from Chinese government representatives here last week, regarding the premiere of documentary "10 Conditions of Love," profiling Rebiya Kadeer, the leader in exile of the Uighur minority in western China.

Kadeer has widely been blamed by Beijing for inciting this month's ethnic riots, which left at least 156 dead, mostly Han Chinese, in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

Jia Zhangke's short film "Cry Me a River," and Emily Tang's "Perfect Life" have been withdrawn at the request of the filmmakers and their producer, Chow Keung of Hong Kong-based X Stream Pictures.

Tang also canceled her trip to Melbourne as a guest of the festival.

Festival organizer Richard Moore told The Hollywood Reporter that the filmmakers objected to the presence of Kadeer at the festival and the inclusion of "10 Conditions" in the program.

On July 15, Moore received a call from Chinese consular staff in Melbourne demanding that "10 Conditions" be withdrawn ahead of its Aug. 8 premiere and wanting justification for its inclusion.

Moore reiterated on Tuesday that MIFF continues to stand by its decision to program the film.

"As a festival we continue to aim to support a plurality of views and are disappointed that this action has been taken," he said.

At the same time Zhao Liang, the director of "Petition" -- a harrowing documentary about the fate of Chinese people who petition local authorities for change, which screened at the Festival de Cannes in May -- requested that his film also be withdrawn.

Moore would not give specific reasons for the withdrawal of "Petition" but said that "to screen it in this climate would be inflammatory."

As result of the withdrawals, no films from China will be represented at the festival in 2009.

The news came as China's State Council extolled the development of the country's minority rights.

At a meeting for reporters in Beijing on Tuesday, Wu Shimin, vice-minister of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission, reported progress in implementing state-run media projects in film, television and radio for China's multilingual minorities.

These include the translation of approved Chinese-language media into several minority languages, including the Turkic spoken by the Uighurs, a largely Muslim people, who Beijing accuses of harboring separatist factions.

Asked what disaffection with their lives might have caused the Uighurs in the provincial capital Urumqi to be so quick to resort to the violence on July 5, Wu said: "This is a question that should be addressed to the Uighurs."

Asked how Uighurs in China could be expected to speak out when there were no legal Uighur majority-run broadcast media, vice minister Shi Yugang told reporters: "The Chinese government always attaches great importance to language publication and broadcast for ethnic minorities."

Detailing this claim, Shi said that China had created 10 centers for translating films into minority language had been built across the nation.

Mandarin remains the only sanctioned language spoken on nationwide television in China.

The Chinese withdrawals from MIFF are one of a number of political hot potatoes that Moore is juggling this year following the programming of one strand, "States of Dissent."

"We've hit the mother lode of controversies at the moment, but we keep trying to make the point that we're a nonprofit independent arts organization presenting different views and filmmakers," Moore said.

On Friday, Moore was told that director Ken Loach was withdrawing his feature "Looking for Eric" in protest of support the festival receives from the Israeli government.

MIFF kicks off Friday, with the world premiere of another politically charged film, "Balibo," starring Anthony LaPaglia and part funded by the fest.

It's based on the true story of the Balibo Five, a group of Australian, New Zealand and British journalists who were killed by Indonesian militia in the eponymous East Timor town in 1975.

East Timor president and longtime campaigner for a Timorese Republic President Jose Ramos Horta is attending the film's premiere. Moore said that the Indonesian government' is "unlikely to be happy about 'Balibo.' "

Pip Bulbeck reported from Sydney; Jonathan Landreth reported from Beijing.