The 21st Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF) concluded on June 25, having showcased 500 films in 30 categories across 55 countries. Out of Paradise, directed by Batbayar Chogsom, won Best Feature Film, while Ala Changso from Tibetan director Sonthar Gyal 松太加 won the Jury Grand Prix. (Gyal also won Best Screenplay, an award shared with Tashi Dawa.)
As the only Chinese film festival recognized by the International Federation of Film Producers Associations (FIAPF), SIFF has always carried with it lofty expectations, for both filmmakers looking for business opportunities and audience-goers seeking the season’s best movies, i.e., films from the “hot summer season” (暑期档 shǔqī dàng). This year’s festival ended with 468,000 tickets sold, a 9.4 percent increase from last year.
Chinese actor-director Jiang Wen 姜文 headed the jury for SIFF’s Golden Goblet Awards this year, and was joined by Hollywood producer David Permut (Hacksaw Ridge) and Japanese director Naomi Kawase, plus four others. Jiang, 55, gained fame after starring in Red Sorghum (1987), and played a role in 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. He made his directorial debut in 1994 with In the Heat of the Sun. The festival also welcomed Hollywood’s Nicolas Cage and Christoph Waltz at its opening ceremony. Cage showed the trailer for his latest thriller, the film Primal, co-starring Dutch actress Famke Janssen. Cage’s 1997 Face/Off, directed by John Woo from Hong Kong, was also screened during the festival.
SIFF, which is operated by the Shanghai government, is on a mission to promote Chinese films overseas by facilitating their cooperation with foreign film companies. Looking for Rohmer, which the media has dubbed as China’s first mainstream “gay film,” is actually a beneficiary of the “SIFF Project,” which since 2007 has selected a handful of films to help with their fundraising and publicity. This year, the festival initiated a two-day session, “SIFF Co-production Market,” which covered a series of seminars for film organizations from China, Italy, Poland, and the Netherlands.
In response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, SIFF established “Belt and Road Film Week,” which led to an agreement between China and 31 film organizations across 29 countries on future exchange of films events.
Founded in 1993, SIFF is one of China’s most historic film festivals. But despite its rising box office and popularity at home, the festival hasn’t gained much global attention. China’s other festivals, such as the Beijing International Film Festival (BJIFF), has faced the same problems.
BJIFF was established in 2011 by the Beijing government, inspired by 2010’s Chinese box office, which surpassed 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion). Held for eight days every mid-April, BJIFF aspires to catch up to SIFF.
Beijing ranks number No. 1 in terms of film production capacity in China. It had 350 Chinese-made films and 25 theater chains in 2017, according to official data.
On a national level, the Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival is regarded as more traditional than international festivals. Founded in 1992, the festival tours different Chinese cities for four days every September. Since 2005, the Gold Rooster Awards (by jury) and Hundred Flowers Awards (by the public) have been given on a rotating annual basis. In recent years, the former has been criticized for giving awards based on “friendship first, competition second,” as more than one person often wins in the categories of “best actress” and “best actor” (these winners are called a “double-yolked egg”).
FIRST is so far the only Chinese international film festival to specialize in promoting youth filmmakers. Growing out of Communication University of China in Beijing in 2006, it is held annually in Xining, a plateau city of northwestern Qinghai Province, from July 21 to 30.
Last October, renowned filmmaker Jia Zhangke 贾樟柯 launched a new festival on his home turf in northwestern Shanxi Province, “Pingyao Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon International Film Festival.” The festival, supervised by Italian film producer Marco Müller, opened with Feng Xiaogang’s 冯小刚 Youth and presented 46 films, most which were making their China or Asia debuts.
In the southern tropical reaches of China, the Guangzhou International Documentary Film Festival sees the largest gathering of documentaries in mainland China. The 16th festival is calling for entries worldwide, and will be held from December 10 to 13.