What’s Next: 9+ Years of the China Independent Film Festival

event-bannerFounded in 2003 in Nanjing, the China Independent Film Festival was a vital event which provided a forum for Chinese filmmakers who wanted to showcase works that had been realised without restriction, despite the omnipresent threat of the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television (SARFT). The location of Nanjing, the South-East former capital, was chosen due to its distance from Beijing, where censorship matters are dealt with, while the local universities provided facilities for screenings and related activities. Despite the under-the-radar organisation of the event, awareness of CIFF steadily grew, attracting a fervent audience of academics, cineastes, critics, distributors, and students who were able to directly engage with the attendant filmmakers due to the informal atmosphere of the festival. Sadly, CIFF was shut down in November last year, mere days before the 9th festival was due to begin, a further casualty of state interference in the mainland arts scene following the cancellation of the Yixian International Photo Festival and Bishan Harvestival. This was due to the tense political climate caused by the 18th National Communist Party Congress, which led various event organisers to be “invited to tea” by the police. To someone not familiar with the workings of censorship in China, such an invitation may suggest a polite discussion over a warm beverage, but it is actually a phrase used to indicate an interrogation that has the sole intension of dissuading those involved in activities of expression to cancel their plans for the foreseeable future.

CIFF president Zhang Xianmin
CIFF president Zhang Xianmin

On March 31, CIFF president Zhang Xianmin will be participating in a talk at Ran Tea House in Brooklyn, NYC. In addition to teaching at the prestigious Beijing Film Academy, the tirelessly productive Zhang is also a curator, actor and writer. He has appeared in such films as Summer Palace (2006) and Rain Clouds over Wushan (2008) while his credits as producer include Fujian Blue (2007), Crossroads (2008) and Youth (2008). At this talk, he will discuss the current challenges facing CIFF and his observations on Chinese independent cinema based on his tenure with the festival. CIFF spans a fascinating period in Chinese cinema, from the cautious ‘opening up’ of the early-2000s, when many Sixth Generation directors operated with relative freedom to complete landmark works that wowed the festival circuit and proved successful with international art-house audiences, to the digital explosion that was facilitated by low-cost camera technology, to the severe clampdowns that occurred in 2012. It was an event that reflected, and assisted, Chinese independent filmmakers who embraced the digital revolution, using limited funds to realise not only narrative features or documentaries, but works that blurred the boundaries between these two established forms, thereby encouraging much debate about the shifting nature of cinema and the power of fact/fiction hybridity. Presented by Xin Zhou, M.A. Candidate in Cinema Studies, NYU Tisch, this talk should be fascinating for anyone with an interest in Chinese independent cinema.

This event coincides with the Media & Asian Globalization: China and India, 1977-Present conference that will be held from March 29-30. This conference has been arranged by Arvind Rajagopal, NYU Media, Culture, and Communication; Zhen Zhang, and NYU Cinema Studies.

Event Details:

2:00 – 4:00 pm, Sunday, March 31. Ran Tea House is located at 269 Kent Ave, Brooklyn (L Train to Bedford Ave.) Admission: $5 at the door


What’s Next: 9+ Years of the China Independent Film Festival @ Facebook


Media & Asian Globalization: China and India, 1977-Present Conference:


Chris Berry report of the 6th China Independent Film Festival @ Senses of Cinema:


John Berra report of the 9th China Independent Film Festival @ Electric Sheep:


Zhang Xianmin Sina Blog: