The Venice Film Festival and The Public Sphere

Although I personally hold expectations of Shadow (2018), Alfonso Cuaron’s Rome (2018) has won the Gold Lion Award. Zhang Yimou has won the Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory in the Venice Film Festival this year to honour him as an outstanding filmmaker who made remarkable contribution to the film industry. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory has been set since 2008 and Zhang Yimou is the first Chinese recipient. Yorgos Lanthimos has won the Grand Jury Prize with his film The Favourite. Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers makes him the Best Director. So far, the complete award-winning list has released and the 75th Venice Film Festival has officially closed the curtain.

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Alfonso Cuaron has won the Gold Lion Award this year.

According to Wong (2016), while film festivals do not challenge the temporal power, they provide alternatives to mainstream commercial cinemas, whose influence worried many scholars. For example, the Venice Film Festival as the first global film festival and one of the most historical film festivals, its position and status is evident with the name of “the father of film festival”. Since its foundation in 1930s, innovation has been its eternal theme. Therefore, the Venice Film Festival has always be the subject of a talk because of its encouragement for filmmakers to have novelty and artistry. The pursuit to innovation throughout makes it one of the most famous film festivals, however, controversial films and topics can be also seen regularly. Just take this year’s festival as an example, questioned voice has heard since its opening. The opening file, First Man (2018), has been questioned by American audience mainly because the film has no scene of planting American flag on the surface of moon. Not only that, At Eternity’s Gate (2018) has also caused debates since it provides another totally new assumption about the Dutch artist, Vincent van Gogh’s cause of death.

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The poster of First Man
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The poster of At Eternity’s Gate

As an international film festival with long history, the Venice Film Festival plays a sophisticated hand with its influence. However, according to the wide variety of film festivals, from national festivals to regional festivals, from city-based festivals to thematic festivals, they “participate in the varied public and counterpublic spheres in the larger world, adding their own distinctive contributions to the discursive formation of the public spheres and to our conceptualization of them” (Wong 2016, p. 91). Let us go back to the Not One Less (1992) that I talked about in my last blog, the reactions to the film from the Cannes Film Festival and the Venice one had jumped to one of the two extremes. On the one side is “political interpretation” and the other side is the praise of “precious”. Disagreements exist between these two juries, not mention million of audiences’ opinions would be affected by them.

The funny thing is that even the award winning of Alfonso Cuaron has been questioned because of his Mexican descent and his close friendship with this year’s Venice Film Festival’s president, Guillermo del Toro, another Mexican filmmaker. As public events, film festivals inevitably make topics for the public sphere and audiences’ opinion has been shaped constantly. This is also why the study of making film festivals as public/counterpublic is valuable.

 

References:

Chazelle, D(dir) 2018, First Man, motion picture, the Venice Film Festival.

Cuaron, A (dir) 2018, Rome, motion picture, the Venice Film Festival.

Schnabel, J (dir) 2018, At Eternity’s Gate, motion picture, the Venice Film Festival.

Wong, C 2016, ‘Publics and Counter Publics: rethinking film festivals as public spheres’, in B Kredell (ed.), Film Festivals: History, theory, method, practice, Routledge, New York, pp. 83-99.

Zhang, Y (dir) 1999, Not One Less, DVD, Calif, Culver City.

Zhang, Y (dir) 2018, Shadow, motion picture, the Venice Film Festival, Venice.

The Indissoluble Bond Between Zhang Yimou And the Venice Film Festival

As I mentioned in my past blog before, Chinese domestic film festivals are not good examples of conditions to present works of art and judge them fairly. However, it does not matter that our Chinese brilliant film directors to be treated equally in other international film festivals for most of time.

The Venice Film Festival has been an amazing stage for several Chinese film directors to show their charm. The first chemical reaction between them happened in 1990s. The Story of Qiu Ju (Zhang dir., 1992) is the first Chinese mainland movie that won the Gold Lion Award. Its director, Zhang Yimou, is the outstanding representative of “the fifth generation” of Chinese directors and a frequent award-winner. This award makes both him, the actors and his film production team famous. More importantly, Chinese movies won the respect and appreciation internationally since this amazing beginning.

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Chinese director Zhang Yimou
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The logo of the Venice Film Festival
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The poster of The Story of Qiu Ju

I would like to talk more about his second award-winning movie in Venice, Not One Less (Zhang dir., 1999). After more film festivals, audiences, judges and critics has been impressed by Chinese movies, Zhang Yimou had presented another movie Not One Less and planed originally to join the Cannes Film Festival. However, this time the Cannes Film Festival had fail him because the then president, Gilles Jacob, believed this movie was doing propaganda on behalf of Chinese government after he watched. His comments made Zhang Yimou change his mind and announced to exit the Cannes Film Festival. He said he would not accept the interpretation with this obvious sense of politicization.

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The logo of the Cannes Film Festival
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The poser of Not One Less

Zhang Yimou came back into the embrace of the Venice Film Festival after it extended an olive branch to him and invited Not One Less (Zhang dir., 1999) to main competition. The president, Alberto Barbera, thought this movie was extremely precious and arranged the best promotion resources and screening schedule for it. Finally, Not One Less (Zhang dir., 1999) had won the Gold Lion Award unsurprisingly again.

It is well known that “art is without borders”. However, the fact is that we can hardly judge anything without bias and prejudices since it is part of human nature. Film festivals as programmers to present fine art of film to the world, their criteria and standard of selection decided the fate of many films and directors to a great extent and the its own level and rank. 1990s is the golden age for Chinese film since this is the first time that Chinese movie had got into international film market on a large scale. They needed more attention and recognition than ever to gain influence. This year, Zhang Yimou joined the Venice Film Festival with his newest movie Shadow (Zhang dir., 2018) this month. The film still aims to present Chinese culture with showing traditional Chinese philosophy. As the only Chinese-language film this year, after the premiere in 7th September, praise has been given from various media.

Let us wait and see how long this amazing bond will last between this Chinese director and this international film festival.

References:

Zhang, Y (dir) 1992, the Story of Qiu Ju, DVD, Electric Pictures, London.

Zhang, Y (dir) 1999, Not One Less, DVD, Calif, Culver City.

Zhang, Y (dir) 2018, Shadow, motion picture, the Venice Film Festival, Venice.

MIFF: A Good Programmer of Selecting Films

When we talk about music, film, game, animation or everything related to art and entertainment, Australia seems like a land that is already being forgotten by the world.

The local artists know there are bigger and more attractive market and stage outside of the land of Australasia. We have seen many successful Australian-born actors and actresses in Hollywood like Kate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving, or the popular Chris Hemsworth as Thor in the hit film series Avengers. Or Australian musicians like Keith Urban, Sia Furler, or Lorde strike a pose on American music activities. All these make the existence of MIFF (Melbourne International Film Festival) valuable and precious.

A friend of mine went to the MIFF and described how impressive it was to me since I could not make it due to my schedule. She had seen the movie, Shoplifters (Koreeda dir. 2018), the one that won the Award of Golden Palm in Canna and she has been excited to watch for a long time. The theatre of showing the film is classic and magnificent. The film itself is amazing and she was grateful that MIFF has chosen a nice film to screen.

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Shoplifter (2018)

Just like what De Valck (2012, p. 25) said in his article, “A film that is not screened is dead.” Due to the restorations and different situation of different countries and regions, audiences may not always have opportunities of watching movies in the theatre that they are truly interested in. There is an interesting plot that is designed in the film In the Heat of the Sun by the director Jiang Wen (dir. 1994). In 1970s, a bunch of teenagers sneaked into the military great hall, which was not open to the public, and the movie that was screening was stopped by one office since he noticed their joining. The officer’s secretary said seriously: “This is a poisonous movie and you (the teenagers) would make mistakes after watching this.” It was speculated by the audience that the movie that they watched secretly was a banned film named Caligula (Brass dir. 1979). The sources are usually limited due to many factors such as time, place and policy. The selection of films in film festivals should be meticulous and sophisticated. It has the power to show audience that they are interested but relativity have the possibility to watch.

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Heat of the Sun (1994)

At the same time, MIFF did a great job when my friend expressed how happy she was to finally watch the Shoplifters on screen and I checked the festival calendar page. It included nearly hundreds of films from different countries and times and tried its best to satisfy the audience with different tastes. As a core function of the film festival is programming: programmers select films as they consider worthy of being seen (De Valck, 2012). MIFF makes Australia, this forgotten land, and local audience have a chance to enjoy the brilliant and international film feast.

References:

Koreeda, H (dir.) 2018, Shoplifters, motion picture, Melbourne International Film Festival, Melbourne.

Brass, T (dir.) 1979, Caligula, Informit, Melbourne.

De Valck, M 2012 ‘Finding Audiences for Films: Festival programming in Historical Perspective’, in J Ruoff (ed.), Coming soon to a festival near you: Programming film festivals, St Andrews, Scotland: St Andrews Film Studies, pp. 25-40.

Jiang, W (dir.) 1994, In the Heat of the Sun, Shantou Ocean Audio Radio Publisher, Shantou, China.

The awkwardness of the 10th anniversary of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Shanghai

We have already seen too many film festivals to be held successfully, such as the historic Cannes International Film Festival or the young Asian World Film Festival. These events  spread the value of movies and films and attract the attention from media, fashion and entertainment worldwide. However, I would like to talk about one relatively unsuccessful example, Marvel 10th Anniversary Film Festival. More specifically, the Shanghai stop of this film festival world tour in April this year.

The world tour of the Marvel 10th anniversary is not a technically film festival, although its scale and organisation are extremely similar. And the Marvel China promotion team in Shanghai used the name of film festival to do the promotion and media publicity. The major event, Marvel 10th anniversary ceremony, was held in the popular spot of the newly-built Shanghai Disney Resort with the attendance of four leading actors in Marvel super hero movies. But fans were in rage after the event and they triggered a social media war against the Marvel China promotion team for “what they described as an unprofessional, embarrassing, and shambolic event” (Yin 2018, para. 1). Fans complained about the sloppy arrangement, disorder of site organization, amateur and impoliteness of the event host and the appearance of too many unexpected and “irrelevant” Chinese local stars as guests. At same time, some fans replied on Robert Downey Jr’s Instagram to apologize for the embarrassment. Even the posting of the official declaration of apology from the Marvel China promotion team after the event could not ease the anger.

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Four leading actors (second, fourth, fifth and sixth from the right:Tom Hiddleston, Robert Downey Jr., Tom Holland and Mark Ruffalo) were in an awkward position.

Facing the constantly fast-developing markets, movie festivals as gatekeepers may need to react faster. With the technology development and the popularization of social media, the identity of gatekeeper is not indubitable as it used to be. The wave of globalization is unstoppable, and it is clear to see that countries like China are the Garden of Eden to many film manufacturers and studios to generate profits. The information lag can be disastrous in the 21st century. Many factors including national policies and personal bias may cause this situation. According to the information gained from the Chinese microblogging social platform, Weibo, the underestimate about Chinese film market from leaders in Marvel China promotion team leaded the embarrassing situation. They believed that Marvel film fans in China would be easily attracted by local stars and ignored the powerful influence of Marvel Studio and fans’ improved quality without proper market research. At the same time, they underestimated the Marvel Studio’s popularity around the whole world.

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Chinese Marvel fans apologized to Robert Downey Jr. for the unprofessional event on Instagram.

Looking back at Chinese film market, its awkward condition has existed for a long time. Due to the lack of reasonable film classification system and the restrictions of film creation and production, good movie works have been seen rarely on film screen in China. Many Chinese film festivals have turned to the playgrounds that we Chinese entertain ourselves. The weakening power of gatekeeper may make it worse. The movie festivals planners may learn to use their power cautiously to avoid another Shanghai Marvel 10th anniversary ceremony situation.

Reference:

Yin, Y 2018, ‘Marvel China Apologizes As Avengers Fans Assemble’, SIXTH TONE, viewed 15 August 2018, https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1002140/marvel-china-apologizes-as-avengers-fans-assemble

Moses, 2018, About the Marvel 10th anniversary ceremony in Shanghai, online image, viewed 16 August 2018, https://movie.douban.com/subject/24773958/discussion/615358801/?author=1