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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

State casts shadow over China's cinema boom

January 9, 2010

The Irish Times - Saturday, January 9, 2010

CLIFFORD COONAN in Beijing

IT'S BEEN a bumper week for cinema in China, with figures showing a massive
opening for James Cameron's Avatar and that the movie business grew at a
record rate last year.

But the scintillating performance at the box office was overshadowed by
politics after two Chinese movies were pulled out of the Palm Springs
International Film Festival in protest at the inclusion of a film about the
Tibetan independence movement.

At the same time, a court in the northwestern province of Qinghai jailed
Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen for six years for separatist activities
after he returned from exile to make a documentary about his homeland.

The two Chinese movies pulled were Lu Chuan's powerful City of Life and
Death , about the brutal 1937 occupation of the city of Nanjing by Japanese
forces, and a short film, Quick Quick Slow Slow .

Chinese state-run producers were angered at the inclusion of The Sun Behind
the Clouds: Tibet's Struggle for Freedom , which deals with the exiled
Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing considers a
separatist.

Cancelling the two films is the latest evidence of Chinese state
interference in international cultural events. In July, Chinese directors
were required to withdraw their films from the Melbourne International Film
Festival after the government protested over a film about the Uighur leader
Rebiya Kadeer, also seen as a separatist.

Beijing also tried to persuade the organisers of the Frankfurt Book Fair
this year not to allow two Chinese writers to attend.

Palm Springs festival director Darryl MacDonald said organisers had met
Chinese government officials who had requested that they not screen The Sun
Behind the Clouds .

The request was refused. "We cannot allow the concerns of one country or
community to dictate what films we should or should not play, based on their
own cultural or political perspective," said Mr MacDonald.

The Chinese box office grew by 44 per cent in 2009 to 6.2 billion yuan (?630
million), a rise attributed to a big increase in the number of cinema
screens.

Thousands of filmgoers braved the worst weather in half a century in parts
of the country to go see director James Cameron's latest movie. Avatar has
struck a chord with local viewers because of the way it deals with people
being forced to move from their homes - this is a big issue in China, where
land grabs by unscrupulous real estate developers, aided by corrupt
officials, are a national scandal.

"Brute-force eviction is unimaginable for audiences in other countries
because they think that it can only happen on alien planets or in China,"
wrote the iconic local author and blogger Han Han.

China imports around 20 foreign films a year for theatrical release, and the
two top movies of 2009 were both from Hollywood: 2012 and Transformers 2:
Revenge of the Fallen . These were followed in popularity by the Chinese
propaganda epic The Founding of a Republic .

Dhondup Wangchen, producer of Leaving Fear Behind , was sentenced by the
Xilin People's Court after a secret trial on charges of "splitting the
motherland", Radio Free Asia reported.

Wangchen's film is a 25-minute documentary including interviews with
Tibetans in the Amdo region expressing their views on the Dalai Lama, the
Beijing Olympics and Chinese laws.
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