Fear no art! The shibboleth must not have made its way to Songzhuang, a suburb of Beijing and home to China’s largest “artists village.” One day before the curtain is scheduled to go up on the 11th Annual Beijing Independent Film Festival — and with filmmakers and other visiting dignitaries already en route — word arrives that the government is shutting it down.
What ensues is horrifying. The cops confiscate the festival’s 1000-plus DVD collection. To make sure their orders are obeyed, the government goes so far as to cut off the building’s water and power supply, making it impossible for people to type, let alone project movies. Calm down, fellas! It’s a freaking film festival, not a terrorist cell conference.
Unfortunately, the direction (for lack of a better term) is equally frightful. The story is told through footage culled from 17 different sources (filmmakers, audience members, volunteers, artists, etc.), many using nonprofessional equipment. For the first 25 minutes, so many subtitles and character idents coated the screen that I frequently found myself reaching for the pause button.
If film is indeed a collaborative medium, then never before has the need for an “auteur” been so greatly felt. (A narrator might also have helped to smooth things over.) Those not wanting to have their “cameras” confiscated kept the iPhones positioned waist-high so as to remain undetected. Too often, this delegates shots of feet and torsos as the prevailing mode of visual expression.
The film still comes highly recommended but be warned: in this case you’re going to have to work for your art. And Brian Hu sums it up best with, “As a festival organizer too, it’s more frightening than any horror I’ve seen come out of Hollywood in years.”
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A Filmless Festival screens Sunday, May 1, at 1 p.m. at Ultrastar Mission Valley as part of this year’s San Diego Asian Film Festival Spring Showcase. For festival information visit Pacific Arts Movement.