Nine independent Chinese films were shown at this year’s Tromsø International Film Festival (TIFF), and none has been seen back home in China. The filmmakers claim Chinese citizens don’t get to see films that contain any hint of criticism against the government or Chinese society.
“We’re allowed to show films at festivals abroad, but not to compete (for prizes),” film director Tao Gu told newspaper Aftenposten. “It would hardly be appreciated by our authorities if an unauthorized Chinese film were to win.”
Such films are never shown in official cinemas in China, he said, they can’t be legally sold as DVDs and are never shown on television either. The Chinese filmmakers don’t even encourage publicity at the festivals, but enjoy being able to share their art and were happy to be in Tromsø. “Tromsø is like coming home for us,” added director Jun Geng. “We like the north.”
One of their films, entitled Den siste elgen i Aoluguya ( The last moose in Aoluguya), features the plight of indigenous people and their nomadic lives with reindeer. There also were lots of moose in their local forests for many years, “but they’re losing their area, the forests are disappearing, the language is dying out and they’re losing their identity,” said Tao Gu, explaining that Chinese authorities don’t allow the nomadic people to have rifles. Another film features great changes in industrial cities of the north, as resources and industry move south. Its undertone of criticism would also not be accepted in China, the filmmakers said.
The Tromsø International festival, winding up after the past week’s run with thousands of visitors, has a mandate to show quality films like those from China, its director Martha Otte told Aftenposten. “The nine Chinese films we chose this year take the pulse of China today, portraying a large new middle class, pressure on indigenous peoples, strong centralization and increasing differences among the people,” Otte said, adding that there was no intention to provoke Chinese authorities who already have been angry at Norway since the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded a Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo five years ago.
“We’re not afraid of provoking, but it’s not a goal,” she said. “We just want to make the public aware of this important film culture.”