The fourth Beijing International Film Festival opened on Wednesday, and it looks like it’s already less boring than last year’s. For that we have the Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone to thank, who on Thursday in a panel discussion spoke provocatively on Mao Zedong and urged the Chinese to confront their history. As The Hollywood Reporter reports:
“Mao Zedong has been lionized in dozens and dozens of Chinese films, but never criticized. It’s about time. You got to make a movie about Mao, about the Cultural Revolution. You do that, you open up, you stir the waters and you allow true creativity to emerge in this country. That would be the basis of real co-production,” said Stone, speaking at a panel on co-production which also included Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron and Paramount Pictures COO Frederick Huntsberry, and was moderated by Zhang Xun, president of China Film Co-production Corporation.
“You talk about co-production but you don’t want to face the history of China. You don’t want to talk about it,” said Stone.
“Three times I’ve made efforts to co-produce in this country and I’ve come up short. We’ve been honest about our own past in America, we’ve shown the flaws.”
Clearly on a roll…
“It’s all platitudes. We are not talking about making tourist pictures, photo postcards about girls in villages, this is not interesting to us. We need to see the history, to talk about great figures like Mao and the Cultural Revolution. These things happened, they affect everybody in this room. You talk about protecting the people from their history. I can understand you are a new country since 1949. You have to protect the country against the separatist movements, against the Uighurs or the Tibetans, I can understand not doing that subject. But not your history for Christ’s sake,” said Stone.
“We’re talking about the essential essence of this nation of how it was built, this whole century, you’ve not dealt with it.”
The audience, “mostly film and media professionals, many Chinese,” Sinosphere notes, “clapped loudly” at his comments.
Perhaps we could pause here to point out that Hollywood is mostly platitudes these days, too: “tourist pictures” — i.e. summer blockbusters — that are heavy on entertainment but superficial in almost every other way. But American cinema is self-regulating, so for all those movies that appeal to mass audiences, seeking to please the common denominator, there are plenty that dare to be artistic and brutally honest. One of those films won an Oscar for Best Picture very recently, I believe. Twelve Years a Slave is the sort of film that will never be made in China, because those in charge of the film industry here must answer to people higher up, people who are much too immature to handle ponderous, critical, far-reaching subject matters that dare reflect any semblance of truth. In China, there are simply too many intellectual cowards. If Stone was too polite to say that out loud, we’ll do it for him: censors are destroying this country’s culture because they take orders from milksops and dummies.
We all know it, including the Chinese, if the audience response is any indication: censorship deadens art, waters it down. The only people who remain clueless — willfully, I think — are conservative hardliners within the Party who would rather wait out the world’s changes and die in their leathery skin rather than consider the possibility that censorship is unnecessary and oh yeah the earth is round. They maintain that cultural emasculation is a necessary price to pay for stability, purely unable to question whether the price we’re paying is too steep.
Guess who has the power to make things change? It’s not Stone, and it’s really not the people clapping at his comments. If Farewell My Concubine, possibly the most critically acclaimed mainland Chinese film of all time, can remain blocked in this country, then nothing else really has a chance. Quality is a secondary consideration when examining art in this country; adherence to CCP dogma is first.
It was good on Stone for making those comments, but really, he wasted his breath. There is no art without politics in China. There is no art.
POSTSCRIPT: I wrote about the closing ceremony of last year’s Beijing International Film Festival, which I attended. An excerpt:
The extravagance, unfortunately, served to prove yet again that glitz is often merely farce dressed up. What we witnessed was the red-carpet-film-awards equivalent of a Chinese factory owner hiring a white face to accompany him on an inspection tour. We were treated to a comedy of miscommunication that would have made residents of Babel grimace. Less a showcase of the cinema than a self-congratulatory trade show, the audience reacted accordingly, supplying often mistimed applause more tepid than you’d find from an American crowd at a cricket match.
” censors are destroying this country’s culture because they take orders from milksops and dummies.”
Any place where censorship, stifling of freedom, abuse of the local populace and government non-accountability are the norm should not be allowed to host anything with “international” in the title.
And before any of you .50 cent muckrakers or panda shaggers start commenting with “what about the US…” or “how about in the west where…”, no…it’s just not the same, so F off.
Wait, so China shouldn’t be allowed to have international film festivals, or anything else of the sort, because they practice censorship? How is that better? And you’re restricting what words they should be allowed to include in their titles?
Funny how you “anti-censorship” folks always want to remedy the problem with more censorship.
Why can’t they just call it the Beijing Regional Film Festival and stock it full of pre approved CCP b.s.? It’s what they want, right?
Funny how you faux intellects try to defend the indefensible.
I’m not defending anything, I’m asking you directly how not allowing China to have international film festivals would be a step in the right direction. This event gave Oliver Stone a platform to say this, did it not?
I get what you are saying, but think before you speak.
The BIFF is a joke….even today, after the festival has started, the schedule of what is playing where and when has yet to be released.
In China, movies about real facts are and will only be movies about foreigners committing abuses in China (the West fucking up the country with their drug, the Japanese soldiers killing and raping everyone at sight, etc).
Never will a movie be made about something real coming from inside. It’s always going to be about heros and salvation. The only accurate part they got about their own “culture” is the impressive tendency about husbands all over the country having mistresses… :-*
I find this pretty confusing. There are plenty of Chinese films about the Cultural Revolution, and it seems like a disproportionately large number of Chinese films are about ‘facing the history of China’- history is pretty much the default genre. Whether the more critical films get legally shown in China is another matter, but they exist.
I’ve yet to see one explicitly critical of Mao, though, so that part rings true.
Good point. Especially after the circlejerk that was “World Trade Center” and the “aw shucks” rationalization of “W.”, Oliver Stone should take his own advice.
I just wanted to say that was an extremely well written article. Thank you for your thoughts on the subject.