Thu, Aug 06, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Protecting freedom of expression through film

By Lee Yun-fen 李蘊芬

This year’s Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) includes showings of Australian director Jeff Daniels’ film 10 Conditions of Love, a documentary on the life of World Uyghur Congress president Rebiya Kadeer. Festival organizers have also invited Kadeer to speak at the festival and attend the film’s premiere on Saturday.

The invitation drew an emphatic protest from China. Chinese producer Jia Zhangke (賈樟柯) and directors Zhao Liang (趙亮) and Emily Tang (唐曉白) withdrew their entries from the festival, while Chinese hackers defaced the festival’s Web site and sabotaged the ticket sales system. Taiwanese director Cheng Hsiao-tse’s (程孝澤) movie Miao Miao (渺渺), a Taiwanese and Hong Kong joint venture, was also pulled from the festival by the Hong Kong distributor.

Both the festival’s organizers and audience have been affected. Not only was the Australian government infuriated by China’s wanton attempts to interfere with freedom of expression, but local and international media outlets such as Agence France-Presse misunderstood Taiwan’s position on the matter.

Even though the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Australia made a timely statement and was able to communicate with local Taiwanese expatriates and media outlets, the Sunday Age, CBC News and the New York Times still carried stories about Taiwan from a mistaken point of view on Sunday, hurting the image both of Taiwan and of the Taiwanese film industry.

After festival organizers sternly requested that China refrain from interfering with the festival, the Chinese directors not only withdrew their films from the festival, but said that they would never attend Australian film festivals and related activities in the future.

This move has caused an array of criticism from the international movie industry. If the festival organizers had given in to China, the selection of films in other festivals would be affected by political factors as well. Many worried that this could destroy the freedom of expression that should be protected in international film festivals.

In addition, Taiwanese movies made in cooperation with companies in Hong Kong or other parts of China will likely not be able to participate in international film festivals in the future because of Chinese pressure. This is not a good thing for either movie producers or audiences.

While Jerry Chuang (莊正安), director of the Information Division at the TECO in Australia, managed to communicate directly with the festival organizers, movie-goers and local media outlets on the front line, the Chinese government resorted to a crude protest against the festival, which has backfired and instead intensified Australian animosity toward China, while also damaging Taiwan’s international profile.

We hope that the Taiwanese government will not only defend the rights and interests of the Taiwanese film industry, but also support the pursuit of basic human rights as well as the independence and freedom of expression of film festivals.

Taiwanese movie No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti (不能沒有你), directed by Leon Dai (戴立忍), recently won the Best Feature Film award at the 30th Durban International Film Festival. This is ample evidence that Taiwanese movies are starting to shine on the international stage. I urge everybody to continue to support domestic movies and not let China dim the popularity of Taiwanese film.

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