BEIJING — Once again, authorities in China have shut down the Beijing Independent Film Festival.
A modest affair held in a distant eastern suburb of the Chinese capital in the artist village of Songzhuang, the event is intended to give auteurs of documentaries, feature films and experimental movies the chance to present their works to an appreciative audience. But over the weekend, officials pulled the plug on the 11th attempted edition of the festival.
On Saturday, dozens of men blocked directors and audience members from entering the screening venue, a small film centre down a dusty narrow road lined with artists’ workshops and galleries. A notice was affixed to the door, reading: “Announcement. The festival is hereby called off.” It was signed by the Xiaopu Village Committee.
On Sunday, at least six men were stationed at the door to the Li Xianting Film Fund, where the festival was to be held. Eleven films and multiple Q&A sessions scheduled for the day were called off. Asked why the event had been canceled, one of the men blocking the entrance said: “There is no why. Now leave.”
Asked if the festival – which was scheduled to run through Aug. 31 – might resume Monday, he said no, and ordered two visitors not to take photos of the building or the notice on the door.
Reached by phone Sunday, Wang Hongwei, an organiser of the festival, and Wang Lina, a member of the documentary competition jury, said they could not discuss the situation. The Voice of America’s Chinese-language service reported that authorities had entered the Film Fund’s premises and taken away computers and films.
“There is no why. Now leave.”
In an interview last week, Wang said authorities this year had seemed stricter than in years past, with police as well as representatives from the government tax bureau making multiple inquiries about the event starting three or four months ago.
“They came and asked if we were selling tickets, if we would have income. I replied that it’s totally free,” Wang said, noting it was the first time tax bureau bureaucrats had queried him.
“We have the same problems every year,” he said, trying to strike a note of hopefulness. “We have to try to do our best to ensure a smooth operation based on past experiences.”
The festival shows films that have not been approved by government censors and has since its founding 11 years ago faced government pressure and last-minute cancellations from venues wanting to avoid controversy.
Some years have been more absurd than others: In 2012, power to the screening venue was cut. Last year, after the opening movie was blocked, Wang said the scheduled film discussions would be allowed to go ahead but films could only be shown to small groups of no more than five people.
The festival moved out of the city centre seven years ago to Songzhuang, giving supporters hope that it would be subject to less harassment, but that has not been the case, even though the venue is hard to find and can only accommodate a very small audience.
In addition to Chinese films, this year’s edition was to present a special selection of Japanese films as well as a Filipino film section.
Asked last week why he keeps attempting to organize the festival despite such obstacles, Wang said simply: “Because I think it’s significant.”
(Nicole Liu in the Times’ Beijing bureau contributed to this report.)
©2014 Los Angeles Times
Image: Beijing Independent Film Festival organiser Li Xianting displays a document issued by police following his release by police after the film festival was shut down a day earlier, in Beijing on August 24, 2014. Police briefly detained the two organisers after shutting down the festival on its opening day Saturday. (GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)