China Blocks Beijing Independent Film Festival From Opening

Chinese authorities blocked an annual independent film festival from opening, seizing documents and films from organizers and hauling away two event officials in a sign that Beijing is stepping up its already tight ideological controls.

Li Xianting, a film critic and founder of the Li Xianting Film Fund, the organizer of the Beijing Independent Film Festival, said police searched his office and confiscated materials he had gathered over more than 10 years. Li and the festival's artistic director, Wang Hongwei, were detained by police yesterday night but later released, according to their supporters.

The festival, which began in 2006, has seen severe police obstruction over the past few years, but this year's crackdown is far 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. "But this year, we cannot carry on with the festival. It is completely forbidden."

Over the past week, Li posted memos saying government security personnel were pressuring him to cancel the festival, and that he had come under police surveillance.

"It's very clear that the (President) Xi Jinping regime is determined to control the ideological realm, which has not been emphasized so much for a long time," said Chris Berry, professor of film studies at King's College London in England.

But Berry said that China is not new to shutting down independent film festivals, and that the ill treatment of the Beijing festival does not mark the end of the country's independent filmmaking, as filmmakers have found more venues in an increasingly diverse environment.

The boom in the mainstream movie industry, the rise of galleries that curate artwork based on moving images, and the Internet all have provided new opportunities, he said. "Let's not be totally pessimistic," he said.

Police in the Beijing suburb of Songzhuang, where the event was supposed to open, said yesterday that they were unaware the festival had been canceled. But security was tight at the site, with about two dozen men blocking the area and preventing around 30 film directors and members of the public from entering.

The men, claiming to be villagers, tried to stop anyone from photographing or videotaping the scene, and in a scuffle, broke a video camera an Associated Press journalist was operating and took away another AP journalist's cellphone. The phone was later returned.

Hu Jie, a movie director who traveled from the eastern city of Nanjing to attend the festival, was upset at the cancellation.

Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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