This year’s International Women’s Film Festival has opened in Cologne and Dortmund. 95 films from 30 countries will be shown in the two cities. This year’s focus is on China. Female directors from the People’s Republic will show their latest films and discuss them with the audience members.
Film director Zhang Yimou won great international acclaim for Chinese cinema in the 1990s but women directors are less famous
Chinese cinema was made famous across the world in the 1980s and 90s by male directors such as Zhang Yimou. The works of female Chinese directors are less famous. That’s why, this year, the international film festival in Cologne and Dortmund has invited several female directors from the People’s Republic to show their latest works.
The festival’s “Focus on China” section is showing films from the past 10 years by established directors as well as underground filmmakers. Like Chinese society, the Chinese film industry -- the world’s third-largest after the United States and India -- is undergoing rapid changes.
Private capital, foreign co-productions and independent low-budget offerings have changed the landscape, making it more varied. Contemporary Chinese cinema explores these rapid changes, often looking at the consequences of the economic boom on ordinary people.
Russian Jews in China
But there are not only Chinese filmmakers looking at China today, as Canadian director Jacqueline Levitin from Canada demonstrates. Her film “Mahjong and Chicken Feet” looks at the Russian-Jewish community of Kaiphong. A community, which emigrated to China from Russia, and where the director’s grandparents and parents are from.
Levitin’s parents later moved to North America and she decided to make a film about their place of birth. Whilst conducting research for her film, Levitin was surprised to discover she was not the only Jewish tourist in China in search of her roots. She also discovered that the Chinese didn’t have prejudices against Jews.
“They don’t understand European anti-Semitism,” she enthused. “They are very accepting of others. There is one scene [in the film], where we are looking for the old Jewish synagogue in Kaiphong. We are asking people and they’re saying ‘No, no that’s the Catholic church’ or ‘No, no no, no, that’s the mosque.’ They don’t distinguish between one and the other.”
A more varied impression
With such films, the film festival wants to give audience members a more differentiated impression of China than the one currently hitting the headlines in the media. It doesn’t only want to concentrate on human rights abuses.
But festival director Silke Räbiger isn’t worried that too positive a portrayal of China might arise: “Looking at the film and the programme, one can see that there are several films by independent directors which depict groups on the edge of Chinese society. For example, the documentary “Bingai” about a dam project and an old lady who won’t budge from her home even though everyone around her has already relocated. She is very vocal in her battle with the authorities. Her critical tone comes out very clearly.”
“And there are also obvious critical signs in other films that the massive transformations in society often leave people behind because they simply can’t keep up.”
Drawing more visitors
Apart from the China focus, the women’s film festival also has a gay and lesbian section as well as a special programme for children and young people. The organisers hope to attract more teachers and schoolchildren. But they say it is difficult considering many of the 90 films from all over the world are unknown in Germany and haven’t received much press attention.
However, the festival itself has a great reputation within the industry, as director Levitin testifies:
“I have heard about this festival for many years but I never had a chance to come. So I am very glad to participating and participating, especially in the section on China. Because I think Chinese women filmmakers have been underrepresented in world cinema -- they have been overshadowed by a couple of big male names. There is still a reason to have a women’s festival and to celebrate and see what women do.”