Organizers of the China Independent Film Festival (CIFF), one of the longest-running film events in China, have decided to suspend operations “indefinitely” due to growing concerns over censorship, Reuters reports. The China Independent Film Festival (CIFF), which held its first edition in Nanjing, the capital of China’s eastern Jiangsu province, in 2003, was a platform for movies that were excluded from mainstream festivals and state-backed institutions.
Since it was founded by film commentator and curator Zhang Yaxuan and artist Cao Kai, CIFF has screened more than one-thousand feature films and documentaries—many of which grappled with sensitive topics considered taboo by the Chinese government, such as the Cultural Revolution and homosexuality. Its last iteration, held in 2018, included Yang Mingteng’s debut feature Shanghai Without Sadness (2017), a 1940s-set drama about a woman who turns her nightclub into a clothing factory and her dancers into socialist workers during the rise of the Communist Party, and Gu Tao’s Taming the Horse (2017), a documentary about a young migrant from Inner Mongolia—both of which won prizes.
While the festival has faced many challenges in the past—it’s been shut down by the authorities on several occasions—a statement released by CIFF on its official WeChat account on Thursday read: “We believe, that under current local organizational conditions, that it is impossible to organize a film festival that truly has a purely independent spirit and which is effective . . . Of course, to those grassroots film festivals that under the mask of security still try to encourage independence, we express our respect.”
Zhang Xianmin, a professor from Beijing Film Academy and CIFF film programmer, told the South Morning China Post that “the closure is normal.” He said, “We are just back to the usual rule under the party. We just went back to twenty years ago, when there was no room and opportunity for independent films. . . .If we had promoted the commercialization of CIFF, that might have made it safer and we could have had the chance to survive.”
The move comes amid growing concerns over the crackdown on freedom of expression under President Xi Jinping. Other major film festivals were also forced to shutter over the years—the Beijing Independent Film Festival, which took place in the capital’s Songzhuang district, closed in 2014—and many are forced to take extreme precautions when scheduling screenings. One filmmaker and entrant in CIFF in 2016 recalled having to crawl through a storage area in a burger restaurant in order to attend a screening of his film about a police crackdown in the 1980s.