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June 17, 2017

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Shanghai film festival offers a chance to see works that may not have theatrical release

THE very first film arrived in Shanghai in the summer of 1896 — just a year after motion picture film made its debut — and it’s been a staple here ever since. Nearly 100 years later, in 1993, the Shanghai International Film Festival was founded, bringing works from the four corners of the world.

Today, the 20th festival kicks off, but you may be left out in the warm if you haven’t already pre-booked tickets — many films have already sold out.

The festival is a chance to see important new — and old — films from around the world that might not otherwise achieve wide release in China, including this year’s Oscar Best Picture winner “Moonlight,” which tells the story of a gay black man struggling to come to terms with his lot in life.

This will be the film’s first screening on China’s mainland, having so far failed to achieve general release here. It was hoped that after “Beauty and the Beast” was released in China this year with its infamous gay scenes in tact, that future films delving into similar themes might have more of a chance at nationwide release, but that hasn’t panned out.

As I’ve mentioned many times in previous columns, China doesn’t have a film classification system, meaning that all works released here must be suitable for all audiences, including young children.

A number of previously banned films will also be screened at this year’s festival, since film fests often enjoy more relaxing policies.

Among the popular works screening over the next 10 days are nine classic Disney animated works, which will screen in partnership with Walt Disney Pictures. This is an exciting opportunity to see some very important animated works on the big screen.

The Disney classics that will be screened are “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937), “Dumbo” (1941), “Bambi” (1942), “The Little Mermaid” (1989), “Beauty and the Beast” (1991), “Aladdin” (1992), “The Lion King” (1994), “Fantasia 2000” (1999) and “Winnie the Pooh” (2011).

I wish they had my favorite Disney cartoon, “Lady and the Tramp,” but I probably wouldn’t have got in quick enough to snap up a ticket before they all sold out anyway! Other must-sees from the festival include “The Chinese Widow,” which is a World War II film set in Zhejiang Province.

A number of films screening in the Shanghai International Film Festival are in the running for the Golden Goblet Awards, which are judged by a panel of industry experts from China and around the world. More than 2,500 films were submitted for competition, which is a record for the festival.

This year’s event will feature many films in 4K, which gives a clearer and sharper image. This will include new films, as well as classics which have been restored for 4K release.

It’s pluses like this that organizers will be hoping will draw audiences away from their smartphones, iPads and computer screens and out into cinemas. Changes in media consumption over the past few years have seen gaming and zhibo (live broadcasting) nearly overtake film box office takings.

But one film at this year’s festival that I would have a hard time watching is Derek Jarman’s final feature film, “Blue” (1993). It consists wholly of a blue screen, from start to finish, accompanied by audio interviews and discussions about his work and his life. By that stage in his career, the filmmaker was already partially blind due to complications with HIV/AIDS.

It’s not like I have a choice, though, because like other films in this year’s line-up, “Blue” is completely sold out.

If you haven’t bought your tickets yet, you better cross your fingers and toes and get to it!


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