Chinese authorities shut down an independent film festival on its opening day yesterday, silencing a rare venue for the showing of films that may be critical of the government in a country with tight controls, the organizers said.
Festival artistic director Wang Hongwei (王宏偉) and executive director Fan Rong (範榮), both of the Li Xianting (栗憲庭) Film Fund that has organized the 11th Beijing Independent Film Festival, said that the event was forced to close.
Li, founder of the film fund and a film critic, has posted memos in social media outlets over the past week saying that Chinese state security personnel have been pressuring him to cancel the festival and that he has come under police surveillance. Both Wang and Fan verified the authenticity of Li’s posts, but declined to speak further.
Police in the Beijing suburb of Songzhuang, where the event was supposed to open, yesterday said that they were unaware of it.
Started as a film forum in 2006, the festival over the years has grown to be one of the most important events for China’s independent films, but also has attracted the attention of authorities eager to regulate free speech.
In 2012, electricity was cut off shortly after the festival opened, but organizers still managed to show some new movies. Last year, the festival went on, although public screenings were canceled.
In his memos, Li said police put him and the fund’s office under surveillance on Monday last week, when this year’s festival’s poster and schedule were released online.
He said local authorities initially agreed to have the festival moved to a town farther out in neighboring Hebei Province, but that the management of the hotel where reservations were made informed him on Friday that police would not allow the hotel to host the festival.
Li said both Fan and Wang were taken away by Songzhuang police on Friday afternoon and forced to sign an agreement to cancel the festival before they were freed five hours later.
Li said employees of the fund were also informed that the electricity to their office would be cut off starting yesterday.
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