Luca BRUNO “Chinese movie wins Golden Lion award” Shanghai Daily 11 September 2006
12 September 2006 12:22
Three Gorges exposé wins top prize at film festival
By Clifford Coonan in Beijing
Published: 11 September 2006
Significantly, Still Life won the Golden Lion just a few days after Jia's fellow director Lou Ye was banned from making movies for five years for submitting Summer Palace - a romance set against the backdrop of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests - in Cannes, without official approval.
As an independent director, most of Jia's output is not shown in China as his films are made without official permission, although his previous film, The World, about workers at a Wonders of the World-style theme park outside Beijing, was given general release.
A graduate of the presitigious Beijing Film Academy, Jia's first film, Xiao Wu, a gritty realist work about a pickpocket in a small town in his native Shanxi province, was a strong debut. The follow-up, Platform, a three-hour epic detailing the life of a music troupe, takes a poetic look at the process of change in China, while Unknown Pleasures, shot on video, is a stark take on the country's modernisation.
"Censorship still exists in China and obviously as a director it's painful not to have my movies shown in cinemas," Jia said. "What makes me happy is that I didn't have to change my films to fit society, but instead that society has changed. I hope this will continue."
The French actress Catherine Deneuve, who headed the prize jury, praised the beauty of the cinematography and said the story was moving without being political.
Still Life may not be explicitly political, but it is hard to avoid the political aspect of the Three Gorges Dam project. More than a million people were flooded out of their homes by the dam, the world's largest hydroelectricity dam, a project mired in controversy for its human and environmental impact and notorious for corruption.
The film is set in the new towns built to house the people moved by the dam and features characters who are kicked out of their homes. Jia said: "There is major change going on in China and I wanted to get more people to know what's happening. Many journalists, international and national, wrote reports and questioned the Three Gorges project. But once it was completed they stopped. I know the population is still suffering from it."
'Still Life' director says Venice prize a sign of respect for Chinese
Sun Sep 10, 9:10 AM ET
BEIJING (AFP) - Chinese director Jia Zhangke, who won the Golden Lion for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival, said the prize for his "Still Life" was a sign of respect for the people he portrayed.
"Really I never, never expected to win this," Jia said Sunday in a video clip posted on Sina.com, one of China's leading web portals, after his film -- a late entry at the Venice event -- took home top honors on Saturday.
"This will not only encourage more young directors -- this also shows respect for the people in my film."
"Still Life" tells the story of two separated couples in the Yangtze River town of Fengjie and how they deal with the massive relocation of the town to make way for the Three Gorges Dam, the world's biggest hydroelectric project.
"This film took 10 years to shoot and we were filming the changes facing the lives of ordinary Chinese people. I think this confirms the importance of the ordinary lives of Chinese people," he said.
While the Chinese press has so far praised Jia for winning the award, bloggers on the Internet expressed anger over the selection, belittling the film's central themes and backdrop of Fengjie, a dirty and poor town.
"This film of Jia Zhangke ... is about coming to terms with the social situation, it is about the fast changes taking place today and how the people must adapt to life and adapt to society," the state Xinhua news agency quoted film experts as saying.
One blogger on Sina.com countered: "These kinds of films ... they're all about a backward China, letting the foreigners see our stupid side.
"A lot of foreigners, I'm sure, think that we all wear tattered cotton shoes, wear pony tails and long pants and walk along the yellow earth pushing a cart. I would like to see a few more films that reflect contemporary China."
Other bloggers pointed out bitterly that many Chinese filmmakers like Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou had profited from movies about rural and poor China.
"Right now the method of a lot of well-known Chinese directors is to make a trash film and then win a prize abroad, then come back and become famous," another blogger wrote.
Jia's award came only days after China's censors banned director Lou Ye from making films for five years after he showed his "Summer Palace" in competition at the Cannes film festival in May without government approval.
That film is set during the 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests and follows the open and sexually free lives of Chinese students before the demonstrations and how they deal with the bloody quelling of the protests and its aftermath.