As a part of my ongoing collaborative research with Luke Robinson, a film studies scholar of Chinese independent films at the University of Sussex, we've recently co-authored a short commentary about independent film festivals in China and the archival impulse that seems to motivate continued support and organization of these events, even as they have been cancelled and closed down in the past few years. Here's a short excerpt from our essay, which is now published online in Anthropology News:
"Occupying that grey area between the spirit and the letter of the law, independent Chinese film festivals have thus always been potentially subject to official interference....in 2012 [the Beijing Independent Film Festival] had its electricity supply “starved” during the opening night, and cut entirely a year later. Thus, while the suppression of the 2014 festival was particularly invasive, it was not unique. What was new was the confiscation of computers, files, and papers. Independent Chinese cinema has no official archive. Organizations like the Li Xianting Film Foundation have therefore become central to Chinese independent film culture not just as coordinating hubs for programs, but also as spaces of record: places to view and store films and to read publications about them. By targeting both the BIFF screenings and the Li Xianting Film Foundation collection, the Chinese authorities made an explicit connection between limiting the public exhibition of independent cinema and seizing control of the means to collect and preserve this body of work."
Read the full essay here. We are planning to continue this project through further research in China and interviews with filmmakers and festival organizers, in order to build a more complete portrait of the impact and influence of independent film culture in contemporary China.