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turf for Chi­nese cinema.”

Be­fore mak­ing it as an A-list di­rec­tor, Jia was con­sid­ered a mav­er­ick in Chi­nese cinema. Pre­fer­ring to cap­ture the lives of China’s un­der­priv­i­leged, Jia was con­tent to set up his cam­era on the dusty streets of China’s small cities and coun­ties. Ini­tially ne­glected in the do­mes­tic mar­ket, Jia in­stead carved out a rep­u­ta­tion for him­self on the in­ter­na­tional film cir­cuit.

In 2006, Still Life, a film about the Three Gorges Dam, earned him a Golden Lion from the Venice Film Fes­ti­val.

“The first over­seas film fes­ti­val I at­tended was Ber­lin in 1998. That was also my first visit to Europe,” he says. “I felt the strong cul­tural dif­fer­ences in what was a whole new world to me, and that ex­pe­ri­ence in­spired in me many new ideas,” he says.

“Now, I hope over­seas film­mak­ers can equally ex­pe­ri­ence the cul­tural dif­fer­ences when they visit a small city in China with such well-pre­served clas­si­cal East­ern aes­thet­ics.”

Films from coun­tries in Asia, South Amer­ica and East­ern Europe dom­i­nate the screen­ing list at the first Pingyao fes­ti­val.

“Due to highly de­vel­oped mar­ket­ing chan­nels, Amer­i­can and Western Euro­pean films are eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble to Chi­nese film­go­ers,” Jia says. “How­ever, the most dy­namic cre­ativ­ity in the film in­dus­try is now in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

“Films in th­ese re­gions more ob­vi­ously re­flect so­cial change. Sadly, in­for­ma­tion about them is severely lack­ing.”

Jia says he is not de­lib­er­ately cre­at­ing a force to counter the cul­tural in­flu­ence of Amer­i­can film.

“At least we can have an­other type of movie to have an equal di­a­logue with them,” he says.

Re­cently, Jia pro­duced Where Has the Time Gone? — the first cin­e­matic col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween film­mak­ers from all five BRICS coun­tries (Brazil, Rus­sia, In­dia, China and South Africa) — which may be a mo­ti­va­tion for Jia’s de­sire to see fresh voices in world cinema.

As a na­tive of Shanxi prov­ince, Jia’s choice of Pingyao as the lo­ca­tion for the fes­ti­val ap­pears to be a mark of re­spect for his home­land.

“I left Shanxi to live in Bei­jing in my 20s,” he says nos­tal­gi­cally. “Shanxi has be­come very un­fa­mil­iar to me. I’d like to come back and search for my past.”

How­ever, Jia’s home prov­ince has never been far from his heart. Shanxi has al­ways been the pre­ferred back­drop for his films, and the di­a­logue in his movies is of­ten writ­ten en­tirely in the lo­cal di­alect.

The main venue for the fes­ti­val is the Pingyao Fes­ti­val Palace, a re­cently re­fur­bished ma­chine fac­tory which had pre­vi­ously lay aban­doned for years.

“It was once the most ragged place within the an­cient city walls,” Jia says. “How­ever, an in­ter­na­tional film fes­ti­val may usher in more work op­por­tu­ni­ties and a more mod­ern life­style here.”

He con­fesses he faced many dif­fi­cul­ties try­ing to or­ga­nize such a big event in such a small place, far more so than if he had cho­sen a major city as the lo­ca­tion for the fes­ti­val.

“How­ever, it’s worth­while to give a new im­age to the prov­ince,” he says.

In China, Shanxi is of­ten un­fairly stereo­typed as an old­fash­ioned cen­tral coal-pro­duc­ing prov­ince.

“As the film fes­ti­val opens, you find driv­ers in Pingyao try­ing to speak Man­darin, and young peo­ple even speak­ing English,” he says. “Changes are tak­ing place.”

Jia says the film palace will open its doors in Jan­uary 2018, and will screen films oth­er­wise over­looked by main­stream cinemas for com­mer­cial rea­sons.

“Who knows? Maybe moviewatch­ing will be­come an­other tourist at­trac­tion for Pingyao other than vis­it­ing the her­itage site within a few years,” he says.

Con­tact the writer at wangkai­hao@ chi­

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