When the 6th Shanghai International Film Festival opens tomorrow, it will be a vastly different affair than in past years.
Beginning this year, the festival will be an annual event that includes the Shanghai International Television Festival. Approximately 165 movies will be screened at the event, which runs from June 8 to 16. Moreover, with the incorporation of the TV festival, there will be 208 documentaries -- 27 of which will be in competition -- shown at the event. Screenings will take place at 12 cinemas in town.
Fifteen of the films will compete for the "Golden Cup" award -- the festival's highest honor -- including "Charlotte Grey" with Cate Blanchett, "Hart's War," starring Bruce Willis, as well as two Chinese movies, "Life Show," directed by Huo Jianqi and starring Tao Hong and Tao Zeru, and "Meeting Life and Death," directed by Xu Geng and starring Ding Yishui.
The quality of the competing films is said to be an improvement over the previous festival, when the organizers were unable to draw many newly released major motion pictures or international-caliber celebrities. This year, however, Japanese director Iwai Shunji, a favorite among young movie-goers, will bring his latest release, "All About Lily Chou Chou," to the festival.
Shunji gained international recognition for his first feature, "Love Letter," in 1995, which showcased his emotional, clever filmmaking style. Shunji's films have a certain quirkiness and are noted for their quick cuts and novel camera angles. Shunji is considered a favorite to take home "Best Director" honors.
The eight-member jury features renowned European cinematographer Michael Ballhaus ("The Age of Innocence," "The Sleepers") and Geoffrey Gilmore, director of the Sundance Film Festival.
Ironically, acclaimed Chinese directors like Chen Kaige, Zhang Yimou and Jiang Wen are absent from both the festival's offerings and its jury.
There are various reasons for such notable no-shows. Aside from possible political considerations, their absence may stem from the fact that while the Shanghai festival is one of the world's nine Grade A film festivals -- putting it on the same level with Cannes, Berlin and Venice -- it lacks their prestige.
In addition, a film that is submitted to a Grade A festival is disqualified from competing at other festivals, and "some Chinese directors prefer to send their movies to Cannes, Berlin or Venice, where an award means overnight success and international fame," explains Lu Chuan, director of the recent hit, "The Missing Gun," starring Jiang Wen.
"Personally, I think it's important to submit my films to the Shanghai International Film Festival because this festival belongs to China and needs the support of all Chinese moviemakers," he adds.
Lacking the star-pulling power of the more established festivals, the Shanghai Film Festival found that attracting high-quality films and drawing international stars is difficult at best.
"Nothing is confirmed," says a harried Yu Baiming, media coordinator for the festival, when asked which film personalities would be attending the event. "Let's wait until the last minute."
This type of last-minute decision-making and notifications has not endeared the festival to its constituents. (The festival committee is currently involved in a law suit against a Xi'an-based newspaper that criticized last year's event.)
Yu declined to comment on the case, saying "the response will come directly from the courts." He adds, somewhat plaintively, "But why can't our media see how we have improved over the years?"
Improvements include making the festival an annual event and incorporating the Shanghai International Television Festival, which was launched in 1986 and this year will bring 208 documentaries and 111 TV dramas from around the world. Among them, 27 will compete for "Best Documentary in the Field of Humanities" and "Best Documentary in the Field of Nature." While the joint festival has expanded staff workloads, an annual inclusive festival is considered a better way of generating interest in the event.
"An annual film fest means that I can see the latest overseas movies every June," says Yu Wenjun, a 30-something white-collar worker.
Yet despite the improvements, complaints of the festival disorganization continue to surface.
"Last year, by the time the information on the films was out and I had decided which ones I wanted to see, the tickets were sold out," says Yu. "I would suggest that the committee release scheduling information earlier this year."
At present, the schedule book only provides a brief summary of the movie to be shown.
"In the future, the information should also include the cast members, director, previous awards, and even a photo. Otherwise movie fans have to surf the Internet to research which movies to see," Yu adds.
For the cinemas screening festival films, a boost in box-office revenues is anticipated. At the last festival, for example, the Shanghai Film Art Center, the main venue, raked in 1.45 million yuan (US$174,700) in box-office receipts, according to Shanghai Film Art Center spokesman Chen Yiqing.
The organizing committee has selected nine quality cinemas, including Studio City, Kodak Cinema World and Paradise Cinema City.
There has been a boom in the number of so-called cinema-plexes in Shanghai, all of which feature up-to-date equipment and facilities.
"It's a statement on how cosmopolitan our world is today," says Zhu Yongde, executive president of the festival committee. "The styles represented at the festival are so varied, ranging from artistic films, suspense to action films."
Festival attendees will be delighted to learn that some films that were well-received at Berlin and Cannes will be screened in Shanghai, notably "Heaven," the opener at this year's Berlin Film Festival.
Based on Kieslowski's (1941-1996) last script, the movie was meant to be the final piece in the director's "Heaven, Hell, Purgatory" trilogy. His death in 1996 prevented its completion, but German director Tom Tykwer ("Run, Lola Run") stepped in and by all accounts acquitted himself quite well.
(Eastday.com June 7, 2002)