THE FIRST Film Festival in China: 5 films not to be missed

THE FIRST Film Festival in China: 5 films not to be missed

China’s FIRST International Film Festival kicks off its 17th edition on Sunday, and as the main arbiter of China’s independent film industry, the event once again features a program heavily geared towards the country’s emerging talent. There are feature films, documentaries and short films. Lots of short films. And also a special section dedicated to short films or features compatible with smartphones that do not exceed five minutes.

International features are also in the spotlight and it will be interesting to see if Malaysian director Jing On’s painful social drama Big Brother it may continue its run in the central Chinese city of Xining, having racked up awards as far away as Switzerland and Italy, but more importantly, the FIFF is a place where people come to see what Chinese cinema has in store.

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There are comparisons, of course, to indie bellwether Sundance, and not just because Xining is located at an elevation of approximately 2,275 meters. The festival has regularly attracted the nation’s biggest stars over its previous 16 editions, and 2023 is no exception. The main judging panel is chaired by Joan Chen, and includes among its members director-turned-star Yao Chen, she with over 80 million followers on the Chinese Twitter-like social media platform Weibo, while wildly popular singer and actor Jackson Lee will also cast his eyes on competing films, fresh off his role in the box office smash Full red river.

Overall, there will be 98 films on display during the nine days of the FIFF, including 27 features and 71 shorts, and after browsing the programme, The Hollywood Reporter has chosen five local feature films that we believe Xining audiences won’t want to miss.

Art school 1994directed by Liu Jian

Painter by trade first, director Liu Jian has broadened his range in animation as that particular side of the Chinese film industry has emerged over the past 15 years or so. While major animated epics have grabbed the headlines — and audiences — in the country lately, Liu has previously opted for a grittier aesthetic, particularly with the 2017 urban thriller Good day, which was in the running for the Berlin Golden Bear. Here, Liu seems to set a kinder, more thoughtful mood with a story that follows art students in the early 1990s as they adjust to China’s ongoing reforms and how these change the society around them.

Way outdirected by Sofia Han

Inspired by the stories of women working in China’s desolate Qaidam Basin, director Sophia Han says she wants to “raise awareness in society that women, regardless of nationality or ethnicity, make an indelible contribution to the progress of the entire society”. The story revolves around a rally car driver’s call for help that comes in the past until the tragic case of a group of girls stranded in the desert. Dujuan He – star of Chinese TV sci-fi hit Three bodies – takes the lead and Han has previously served as CEO for the likes of Tsui Hark and Zhang Yimou.

The storm is comingdirected by Xiao Hai

Director Xiao Hai took a tortuous path in the world of cinema, first studying at the oil painting department of the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in southern China. Then he turned to commercials and special effects and finally a feature film that focuses his attention on two urban couples whose relationships are tested when their destinies are thrown together by kidnappers. The director says it’s all about love and an exploration of the lengths people could go to when they decide they want to save it.

bittersweet ballad, directed by Liang Junjian

The festival boasts five feature-length documentaries in its various competitions, and director Liang Junjian has previously delved into topics as diverse as the Beijing Olympics and shadow puppetry. Here he examines Beijing’s first middle school created specifically for the children of migrant workers and how the school established a choir to help them adjust to their new environment and the pressures of growing up. “These children display a gentle yet resilient vitality that reflects growth,” Liang says.

Trending topicdirected by Xin Yukun

Acclaimed actress Zhou Dongyu returns fresh from her Cannes appearance in Singaporean director Anthony Chen’s well-received thriller The Breaking the Ice in another biting bit about online media and the far-reaching effects that published article can have on the lives of ordinary people when one of those stories goes viral. Director Xin Yukun is among many Chinese filmmakers who have used the FIFF as a springboard for his career — with his debut The coffin in the mountainwinning the best feature film award at Xining in 2014 and playing at the Venice and Hong Kong film festivals, among others.