Thinking after Seeing The Elephant Sitting Still at MIFF

On August 8, 2018, a Chinese movie An Elephant Sitting Still was shown at the Melbourne International Film Festival. That night, the 1 Hall of ACMI Cinema was packed. The film lasted for 234 minutes, during which almost no audience left.


An Elephant Sitting Still written, directed and edited by the Chinese filmmaker Hu Bo and won the Berlinale Forum FIPRESCI Critics Prize in 2018. It tells the tragedies and scandals of four residents from the northern Chinese county for one day in an extremely dark tone. The New Yorker commented that it “with its chilling sense of a suspended time in which history, culture, beauty and even memory seem erased, is among the greatest recent films”. Regrettably, Hu Bo committed suicide when the film was not finalized last year. An Elephant Sitting Still became his legacy. This award-winning film was not released in China because of market and film censorship. Therefore, I am very fortunate to be able to see this movie in Melbourne. At the same time, I am also very moved because I think this is a commemoration of this young Chinese director. Thanks to the film festival.

Film festivals provide opportunities for some independent films to face the audience. These opportunities are very rare because, in reality, many independent movies cannot be shown at the cinema. The film festival developed rapidly around the world and eventually evolved into a diversified platform. Audiences, directors, publishers, journalists, and scholars all blended on this stage and became an important part of the organic system of the film economy. For filmmakers and publishers, participating in the festival is an important way for the film to go outside. Once a film enters the film festival system, it is followed by the building of influence through the awards, and the opportunity to find buyers directly in the trading market of the festival. Therefore, attending a film festival is not only for sightseeing and exposure but more importantly, other economic effects hidden behind the festival. In China, many directors have made more preparations for their next movie by participating in international film festivals, increasing their popularity, and knowing more people and investors in the film industry. After all, the movie is a kind of big-investment commodity. It is almost impossible to complete without sufficient funds. Some Chinese directors such as Jia Zhangke, Wang Xiaoshuai, Zhang Yimou, etc. are able to shoot more and more movies in this way.

On the other hand, films that won awards at international film festivals, especially art films, are facing the embarrassment of the domestic market. Hu Bo once wrote on Weibo: “What is a movie? A movie is humiliation, despair, powerlessness, and makes people laugh like a joke.” The difficulty of the young director in his creation has already come to the fore. More niche literary films fell on the way to find their audience. For example, The Looming Coming (2017) succeed in the Tokyo International Film Festival, but the final box office is only 27.167 million; the highly commended movie Love Education (2017) with a box office account of 18.251 million; Angels Wear White 2017 and Old Beast2017have been captured at major film festivals (which showed in MIFF 2018), and they finally failed in the market.


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