China’s New Underground Cinema

Many independent Chinese filmmakers are bypassing a seemingly logical, endemic market: China itself. Critic Li Hongyu reports in Film Comment (Sept.-Oct. 2009) that artists find it easier to find financing and avoid government censorship when they forsake mainland theaters, where, even if a film did make it to the screen, the “box office returns would be dismal.”

These young auteurs stand in contrast to their predecessors, the so-called Sixth Generation directors, who earned fans among Chinese intellectuals and college students for uncensored “underground” films such as Platform and Suzhou River but still maintained a dialogue with the government. Li points out that many Sixth Generation directors “haven’t been in top form lately” and that others now working under state approval are no longer truly independent.

By contrast, Li writes, the new guard is fiercely autonomous, and some are earning acclaim. One of them, Zou Peng, worked for years to finance his dra-matic feature A North Chinese Girl, a film that captures the mood of contemporary young Chinese people. His perseverance paid off when it was screened at the Berlin Film Festival and picked up by an international distributor. Other indie filmmakers, Li writes, show their work at low-key, illegal screenings in large Chinese cities.

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