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Chinese Indie Films, Indian Fare Dominate Pingyao Festival Lineup

Rebecca Davis

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Chinese indie films and Indian fare dominate the lineup of the Pingyao International Film Festival. The main selection for the festival’s third edition will include 28 world premieres, organizers said. The event will screen 52 films from 26 countries and territories, with all of them having their China debut.

The opening film is set as the world premiere of Indian director Tushar Hiranandani’s biographical film, “Bull’s Eye.” It tells the story of two real-life female sharpshooters from the same village who learned to shoot late in life, but went on to achieve national fame. The women are now in their 80s.

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Chinese films that will have their world premieres at the festival include: “Summer Is the Coldest Season” by Zhou Sun; “Wisdom Tooth” by Liang Ming; “Single Cycle” by Zhang Qi; “Blood Daisy” by Xu Xiangyun; “An Insignificant Affair” by Ning Yuanyuan; “A Trophy on the Sea” by Ju Anqi; “Wild Swords” by Li Yunbo; and “Brick” by Ding Wenjian.

Other highlights include the Asian premiere of “Wet Season,” the second feature from Singapore’s Anthony Chen, who won the Camera d’Or at Cannes for his debut film, “Ilo Ilo,” in 2013, and the China premiere of Australian director Shannon Murphy’s “Babyteeth,” fresh from competing in Venice earlier this month and set to receive gala treatment in Pingyao.

A number of Cannes titles are set to make an appearance. Mati Diop’s “Atlantics,” which competed for the Palme d’Or in May, will have its China debut in Pingyao, as well as the Taiwanese #MeToo-inspired drama “Nina Wu,” which screened in Un Certain Regard, where Quentin Tarantino made a point of checking it out.

Unusually, actor Zu Feng’s directorial debut, “Summer of Changsha,” is also set to have its Asian premiere at the festival, an indication that perhaps the film and its creative team have not been blacklisted as feared. The crime thriller was in hot water after it screened in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard without its “dragon seal” of Chinese censorship approval, which was not obtained in time. Unable to pull the plug on the screening, yet afraid of the fallout from breaking China’s strict content rules, the creative team distanced itself from the event at the time, saying they would not attend any premieres or do any promotion.

Tibetan cinema will also feature prominently at Pingyao, thanks to new works by leading lights Sonthar Gyal and Pema Tseden. Gyal’s “Lhamo and Skalbe” comes to China from the main competition at the San Sebastian, while Tseden’s “Balloon” arrives from the Horizons section at Venice.

This year, the Pingyao festival will also include a section on “Indian New Cinema 1957-1978,” with a selection of 12 titles from the period by directors such as Shyam Benegal (“The Role,” “The Seedling”) and Mani Kaul (“A Day’s Bread,” “In Two Minds”).

Another section, “Made-in-Shanxi,” will see the world premiere of four Chinese titles made in the province where the festival is based. The festival was conceived by Shanxi-based auteur director Jia Zhangke and is programmed by Marco Mueller

Restored versions of Zhang Yimou’s “Red Sorghum” and Xie Fei’s “A Mongolian Tale” will also screen.

The closing film is a world premiere of Hong Kong director Jacob Cheung’s “The Opera House,” which stars Ang Lee’s son, Taiwanese-American Mason Lee, and the young Taiwan-born ‘It Girl’ Ou-Yang Nana. The choice is an interesting one in the midst of extreme tension between the democratic, self-governed island of Taiwan and mainland China, which has extended into the entertainment space. Pingyao comes a month before the two sides are set to duke it out at competing awards festivals, with the Taipei-based Golden Horse Awards falling on the same day as the mainland’s government-run Golden Rooster Awards. Chinese authorities have banned mainland films and professionals from participating at the Golden Horse this year.

Ou-Yang made headlines in March for quelling potentially career-busting rumors that she was pro-Taiwanese independence by saying she endorses China’s definition of the ‘One China Policy’ and identifies as Chinese. That is a stance that the ruling Communist Party’s mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, deemed “brave,” but that triggered a landslide of criticism of Ou-Yang for being a “traitor” from fans at home in Taiwan.

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