Movies to forge bonds

With 676 films, a cin­e­matic event is do­ing an admirable job to rein­vig­o­rate cul­tural ex­changes among coun­tries along the old network of trade routes and be­yond. Ray­mond Zhou re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - NEWS CAPSULE -

The five-day Silk Road In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val wrapped up on Sept 23 in Shaanxi’s provin­cial cap­i­tal Xi’an. Xi’an, which was known as Chang’an dur­ing the Tang Dy­nasty (AD 618-907) when it was China’s cap­i­tal, was the start­ing point of the Silk Road, which went across Cen­tral Asia and all the way to Rome. The film fes­ti­val named af­ter this an­cient network of trade routes is an at­tempt to rein­vig­o­rate cul­tural ex­changes among coun­tries along this road and be­yond it.

For this third edi­tion of the fes­ti­val, 676 films were in com­pe­ti­tion, of which two dozen re­ceived var­i­ous nom­i­na­tions.

The best pic­ture win­ners were The Old­man Dogs, a made-in-Xi’an film (but with a story set in Xin­jiang) about an old man and his dogs; Money, an Amer­i­can-Span­ish co­pro­duc­tion; and Xuan Zang, a the­mat­i­cally rel­e­vant bio-pic about the Tang Dy­nasty monk whose pil­grim­age to In­dia for Bud­dhist scrip­tures has spawned the fan­tasy retelling of the Mon­key King tale, now a sta­ple of the Chi­nese screen.

The fes­ti­val had such lav­ish open­ing and clos­ing cer­e­monies that Kel­lan Lutz, the Amer­i­can ac­tor who ac­cepted both the best pic­ture and the best ac­tress awards for­Money on be­half of his col­leagues, says he could not be­lieve his eyes even though “I’m from Los An­ge­les”.

Kia Jam, a Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer who sat on the 11-per­son jury, joked that the bud­get for the fes­ti­val could be enough to fund all the projects in com­pe­ti­tion.

“Film is in­dis­pens­able in the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive,” says Hou Guang­ming, Party sec­re­tary of the Bei­jing Film Academy.

“Film should be the con­nect­ing tis­sue in car­ry­ing on the spirit of the Silk Road, pro­mot­ing mu­tual ben­e­fits among dif­fer­ent cul­tures, in­creas­ing China’s in­ter­na­tional in­flu­ence and cre­at­ing a col­lec­tive sense of be­long­ing for coun­tries along this road.”

Li Zhen, chair­man of the Shaanxi Crit­ics As­so­ci­a­tion, point­ing to the con­trast between the economies and cul­tures along the Silk Road, says: “From Xi’an to Rome, coun­tries along the an­cient Silk Road are mostly eco­nomic low­land, but cul­tur­ally speak­ing they boast some of the great­est an­cient civ­i­liza­tions in the world, and film can be an ef­fec­tive pi­o­neer in turn­ing it into an eco­nomic hot­bed.”

When Chi­nese talk about “western films”, they are not the Chi­nese equiv­a­lent of the Hol­ly­wood western.

Rather, they are re­fer­ring to movies made in the 1980s by the Xi’an Film Stu­dio, with sto­ries set on the dusty plateau of north­west­ern China.

Zhang Yi­mou’s Red Sorghum, Chen Kaige’s Yel­low Earth and Wu Tian­ming’s Old Well are some rep­re­sen­ta­tives of this cat­e­gory.

As a mat­ter of fact, most of the mas­ter­pieces of the so-called “Fifth Gen­er­a­tion” be­long to this group of films.

Not only have these movies left an in­deli­ble im­print on the fes­ti­val, but they are the pride of Xi’an, or Shaanxi province in gen­eral.

So, for the clos­ing cer­e­mony, Red Sorghum had a gath­er­ing of a dozen of its cast and crew, belt­ing out the now fa­mous drink­ing song while down­ing bowls of liquor.

Direc­tor Zhang, who could not par­tic­i­pate, re­called the good old days in a video clip.

Wu Tian­ming, whoas stu­dio chief was the force be­hind the Fifth Gen­er­a­tion and died two years ago, still cast a larger-than-life pres­ence at the event.

Song of the Phoenix, his swan song, was a sur­prise hit early this year, and his heirs came to the stage at the clos­ing cer­e­mony and do­nated all the pro­ceeds of the film to a foun­da­tion that nour­ishes young tal­ents.

Huang Jianxin, who presided over this year’s jury, is also amem­berof the Fifth­Gen­er­a­tion.

His works of dark hu­mor, such as The Black Can­non In­ci­dent and Stand Straight, Don’t Bend Over, were way be­fore their time and are see­ing their sta­tus in cin­e­matic his­tory grow over the years.

But the Chi­nese western cat­e­gory has “frag­mented”, to use Xiao Yunru’s words.

The cul­tural scholar noted that Shaanxi tal­ents had been lured to big­ger cities like Bei­jing and Shang­hai and the Xi’an stu­dio had to or­ga­nize re­unions in Bei­jing rather than in Xi’an.

“China’s western re­gion cov­ers 12 province-level ad­min­is­tra­tions, which en­com­pass a plethora of ge­o­graph­i­cal set­tings and sub­ject­mat­ter.”

In 2014, Xiao said he drove along the Silk Road to Rome and was im­pressed by “the op­por­tu­ni­ties his­tory has again pre­sented it­self”.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2015 study of Chi­nese films’ in­ter­na­tional clout, done by the Bei­jing Nor­mal Uni­ver­sity, kung fu films still con­sti­tute the most pop­u­lar genre of Chi­nese cinema as per­ceived by peo­ple along the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive coun­tries.

But other gen­res such as drama, comedy and documentary are also gain­ing fa­vor.

This fes­ti­val also saw spe­cial screen­ings and fo­rums for par­tic­i­pants from the Silk Road coun­tries, in­clud­ing theMar­itime Silk Road that went through South­east Asia.

A mini-fes­ti­val of 10 ASEAN na­tions was held to high­light the re­gion’s achieve­ments on the big screen.

But the plat­form has to be mar­ket driven, say sev­eral ex­perts, in­clud­ingQi Yongfeng, a pro­fes­sor with Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Uni­ver­sity of China.

And, it also has to stim­u­late tourism and other cul­ture-re­lated in­dus­tries, says Jiao Hongfen, chair­man of theChina Film Group.

The fes­ti­val is China’s third in­ter­na­tional film fes­ti­val, af­ter Shang­hai and Bei­jing.

The venue al­ter­nates between Xi’an and Fuzhou, which is the start­ing point for the Mar­itime Silk Road.

Con­tact the writer at ray­mondzhou@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Huo Yan con­trib­uted to the story.

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