By Tiffany Ran
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF)’s continued efforts to represent a diverse array of films from multiple countries include discovering many notable films coming out of China. This led the SIFF team to debut a China Stars Showcase in 2016, a film lineup dedicated to films from the Middle Kingdom, curated in partnership with WASA North America group, a Beijing-based arts, culture, and real estate firm promoting Chinese art in North America.
Members of the SIFF staff visited Beijing filmmakers at last year’s first Macau International Film Festival and reached out to the Beijing Film Academy. SIFF will be presenting five student films this year prior to China Stars featured films.
This year’s China Stars lineup include films spanning all regions of China and covering different styles and genres.
“For SIFF, in our mission to be able to be a true international film festival, we’re always looking for cross cultural communications. For us, it’s so important to have a special representation of contemporary Chinese films, as well as historical Chinese films, to be able to explore that long history. The relationship between China and the U.S. are so important to us today that being able to tell those stories through film, both established films and student films that we’re showing, is a terrific way for us to develop,” said SIFF’s new executive director, Sarah Wilke.
“Knife in the Clear Water” follows a farmer in a primarily Muslim Ningxia Province, who is asked to sacrifice a beloved bull in a religious ceremony. A newly restored version of “Love and Duty,” a 1931 silent film features China’s renowned starlet Ruan Lingyu in a romantic drama filmed at the height of Shanghai’s “Old Hollywood” era.
A more recent “Song of Cotton” is based on a short story by National Book Award winning author Ha Jin and follows a caretaker who develops a bond with her patient, an ex-boxer who suffers from dementia.
In fantasy-comedy “The Door,” an auto mechanic finds a door to an alternate universe where different decisions in his life led him to become a wealthy playboy, but his efforts to exist in both dimensions brings up humorous and expected problems.
In “Soul on a String,” a devoted Buddhist encounters a varied cast of characters on his trek through Tibet, while a pair of meteorological engineers fall in love during the difficult construction of the Qinghai-Tibet railway in “The Beautiful Kokonor Lake.”
Most unique and notable are the additions of two animated films, including “Have a Nice Day,” a noir feature with Tarantino-esque dialogue making its North American debut through SIFF, and family friendly “Tea Pets,” a “Toy Story” spin on clay figurines said to bring good luck to tea drinkers.
WASA’s collaboration with SIFF precedes the art firm’s much anticipated opening of its first North American branch in downtown Bellevue, where Artistic Director Eugene Zhang and his team plan to feature a rotating exhibit of works by Chinese artists to include paintings, and pottery.
“Seattle is an international city that has more recently included more of our friends from China. It’s also a city developed around tech and IT, so there are great advancements here in engineering and science. Our company made the decision to develop in the Seattle area to broaden its artistic scene to include more art and artists from China,” said Zhang.
“Back then, there were many prestigious Chinese who sought to exhibit abroad. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to come, but they didn’t have the proper venue a vehicle to facilitate it. We hope to provide more opportunities for them by opening a U.S. branch,” he adds.
The firm aims to create exchange programs between Western and Chinese artists. Zhang hopes through SIFF China Stars and other events to continue bringing Chinese filmmakers to the United States, with hopes for collaboration, inspiration, and promotion of China’s vibrant and fast developing art scene.
While the films for this year’s showcase were selected to touch on diversity of regions and genres, Zhang plans, with the increasing number of films in the running, for next year’s lineup of films to be picked through submissions only and with more rigorous judging in efforts to raise the bar, thereby the quality of work shown each year.
“The Seattle Film Festival is among the nation’s most prestigious in film festivals. This was part of our decision to begin our North American efforts here in Seattle, particularly with promoting and doing outreach of films. We want to invite Western filmgoers to enjoy more Chinese films, but also from our observation, we’re not seeing as much participation of Chinese Americans in these film festivals and our hope is to draw them in and provide them a medium where they can get to know such films as well,” said Zhang of his goals next year.
At a recent China Stars press conference hosted by SIFF and WASA North America, Chinese oil painter Hongtao Li gifted one of his paintings to SIFF to signify the partnership and collaboration between the two groups. Li’s work will be among the first to be exhibited at WASA’s Bellevue branch upon its opening in September 2017.
SIFF’s China Stars showcase launches on June 1 with a WASA Showcase event and it will host its inaugural China Stars Awards on Friday, June 9 at the Pan Pacific Hotel to honor actress Qin Yi with a Lifetime Achievement Award and “The Door” director Dong Liang with a China Stars Emerging Artist Award.
Tiffany can be reached at email@example.com.