By Utpal Borpujari
China has withdrawn two of its films from the prestigious 21st Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) after it failed to force the organisers to withdraw Delhi-based Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam’s latest documentary film on Tibet’s struggle for freedom.
While Sarin and Sonam left for the United States early Friday to attend the screening of their film, The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its film bureau have withdrawn City of Life and Death (also called Nanjing! Najning!) and Quick, Quick, Slow.
In their film, Sarin and Sonam Sarin present a unique perspective on the Dalai Lama’s trials and tribulations and follow him over an eventful year, including the 2008 protests in Tibet, the long march in India, the Beijing Olympics and the breakdown of talks with China.
PSIFF director Darryl Macdonald said in a statement that the Chinese films had been withdrawn after the festival refused to comply with the Chinese request to withdraw The Sun Behind the Clouds.
“We cannot allow the concerns of one country or community to dictate what films we should or should not play, based on their own cultural or political perspective. Freedom of expression is a concept that is integral both to the validity of artistic events, and indeed, to the ethos of this country,” he said in the statement while announcing the withdrawals.
“Ritu and Tenzing are on their way and will be here for their screenings. The Chinese consulate called several days ago and asked the director of the festival to withdraw the Tibetan film… when the director stood by the film and said that the festival would always support freedom of expression, they withdrew the Chinese films,” Therese Hayes, programmer for PSIFF, told Deccan Herald from Palm Springs, Florida.
Incidentally, Sarin and Sonam’s film has already been selected for the competition of the forthcoming Mumbai International Film Festival for Documentary, Short and Animation films (MIFF 2010) organised by the Films Division, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting.
Officials from the Chinese government posted in the consulate there had met Macdonald requesting him to withdraw the Tibet film, which will be screened at the festival on Sunday and Tuesday, with the possibility of a third screening.
What is interesting is that City of Life and Death had faced controversy in China for its sympathetic portrayal of an Japanese army official in the story of Japan’s brutal occupation of the city of Nanjing.
This year, Palm Springs is showcasing five Indian films, including the Sarin-Sonam film. They are Dev.D (Hindi, director Anurag Kashyap), The Man Beyond the Bridge (Konkani, dir Laxmikant Shetgaonkar), Thanks Maa (Hindi, Irfan Kamal), and Well Done Abba (Hindi, Shyam Benegal).