lørdag 2. mars 2024

‘Little by little, the truth is being discovered’: the archive rescuing China’s forbidden films

On the wall of an unassuming second-floor room in Newcastle University sits a map, Blu-Tacked, unframed. At first glance it looks like any other map of China. But on closer inspection, the cities labelled on the map are not just the major urban centres. They are the places that have hosted important film festivals over the years, the details of which are annotated in colour-coded text.

Covering the final years of the so-called golden era of the scene, the map shows dozens of film festivals that used to be active across China. There was the China Independent Film Festival (Ciff) in Nanjing, the Beijing Independent Film Festival (Biff), and the Yunnan Multiculture Visual Festival (Yunfest), among others. In 2024, China’s film community is a shadow of its former self. All these festivals – and more than a dozen others – have been forced to close in the years after Xi Jinping, China’s ultra-repressive leader, took office in 2012.

And so it is that an archive containing nearly 800 indie films and oral interviews with more than 100 film-makers came to be preserved around 5,000 miles away from Beijing. Newcastle’s Chinese Independent Film Archive (Cifa), which opened in September 2023, is the world’s largest publicly accessible archive of independent Chinese films.