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Shanghai film festival panned by critics
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Government interference and lack of cash is preventing the Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF) from becoming an international success, organizers claimed on June 21.

As the eight-day festival came to end amid a flurry of negative reviews about the lack of stars and poor planning, the managing director, Tang Lijun, said a lack of government money and overly strict censorship laws were tarnishing the reputation the Chinese film industry's gala showcase.

"Unlike Cannes and other first class international film festivals with government founding, SIFF is responsible for its own profits and losses. We do not get any money from the government or the city administration to help stage the event," Tang said.

This was "a fact generally neglected by Chinese media and public," she added.

Cannes – the world's most famous film festival has annual budget of approximately 20 million euros, half of which originates from public funding via the National Cinema Center (CNC) under the authority of the Ministry of Culture, the City of Cannes and other local authorities. Contributions from professional and institutional groups along with the Festival's Official partners make up the rest.

But the Shanghai Festival is paid for from private donations. "It was already a miracle that we almost made ends meet this year," said Tang.

The government's main input comes on the form of censorship, an "obstacle" which is holding back the growth and success of the competition, said Tang.

"The quality of this year's films competing for the top prize, the Jin Jue Award, is generally regarded as lower than that of Cannes or the Berlin Film Festival," she said.

The organizers were under pressure from the government to select only ‘appropriate' nominees, said Tang.

"We have to be very cautious about the themes of the films, whether they are political incorrect or contain nudity and violence," she added.

The festival is under a constant threat of losing its independence.

"If anything were to wrong, the authorities might take away our right to select the films ourselves, just as they did in the TV business," said Tang.

The government's interference was big turn-off for most serious international moviemakers.

"Because of the limitation on themes, many directors do not even consider SIFF at all, as they know their films will never be approved here," said Tang.

The lack of finance and restrictions means Shanghai is a long way off from being able to organize an "A-level film festival" with a reputation similar to European or North American events.

All this feeds into the negative reports and complaints by the local media about the "low-quality competition" and "poor arrangements of activities," said Tang.

Most embarrassingly, said Tang, was the poor accommodation arrangements for guests.

Because of its limited budget, organizers were only able to provide two days of free accommodation for visiting celebrities. This lead to an over subscription on the two main showcase days with many dignitaries left out in the cold at many events.

"We will try to make the arrangements more reasonable next year," said Tang.

She said the film festival was a vital international cultural platform for Shanghai and China's reputation and this deserved more support from the government and the city both in terms of finance and planning.

"We were lucky to have Ping'an Bank as our key sponsor this year, but it was far from sufficient. The authorities should look at the potential growth of service industry that would benefit from the annual festival. They should invest to get a better return across the board," said Tang.

Poor cash, lack of official help and censorship aside, the festival did provide movie buffs and fans with some positives.

Several award-winning directors competed though there was no Hollywood household name to draw the crowds.

There was a small dusting of film stars to woe the public's camera flashes on the red carpet, however. Hollywood celebrities including Halle Berry ("The Monster's Ball"), Clive Owen ("Close") and Ewan Mcgregor ("Trainspotting") all smiled and waved for the camera and lent weight to the international billing of the award's bash.

Their presence demonstrated the promotions and marketing programme was working and that the Chinese film industry was being watched more seriously overseas.

"We have been promoting SIFF in the States and film festivals like in Berlin. Only with an international influence, will we be able to attract foreign stars," said Tang.

The festival's five year plan to become a trading success between Chinese and foreign filmmakers ends next year. According to the plan, the film festival would step into the first tier of international A-level film festivals by 2010. Despite obstacles and limitations that are inevitable in China, Tang said that " the festival exceeded expectations."

"The organizing committee is confident of fulfilling the five-year plan," she said.

(Global Times June 22, 2009)

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