By Shih Hsiu-chuan and J. Michael cole
The Government Information office (GIO) yesterday expressed its displeasure at Fortissimo Films, the Amsterdam-based distributor of the movie Miao Miao (渺渺), following the controversial withdrawal of the film from the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF).
“We feel deep regret that Fortissimo pulled the movie without informing Taiwan in advance,” said Frank Chen (陳志寬), director of the GIO’s Department of Motion Pictures.
Chen said the withdrawal had “hurt the image of Taiwan.”
The office was unclear about the name under which the movie was registered at the festival.
Chen said the GIO would seek reimbursement of a NT$4 million (US$123,000) subsidy it gave to Taiwan Jet Tone (台灣澤東公司) if the movie was not registered at the festival under the country’s name, as stipulated in the contract granting the funds in 2005.
Taiwan Jet Tone obtained the subsidy to co-produce the film, directed by Taiwanese director Cheng Hsiao-tse (程孝澤) and with mostly Taiwanese actors, with Hong Kong-based Jet Tone Film Ltd (香港澤東公司).
In protest at the festival’s refusal of a request from the Chinese Consulate in Australia not to air the documentary 10 Conditions of Love about exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer at the film festival, China withdrew its four films from the event late last month.
Miao Miao was also pulled, with the GIO and Taiwan Jet Tone offering different accounts of who made the decision and why.
The withdrawal has met with mounting criticism as it suggested not only that Miao Miao, a Taiwanese film, was categorized as a Chinese film in an international film festival, but also that Taiwan was siding with Beijing in the repression of Uighurs.
Chen Bau-shu (陳寶旭), the person in charge of Hong Kong Jet Tone Film’s business in Taiwan, denied yesterday that the withdrawal was inappropriate.
“I don’t think pulling the film was in violation of the funding contract [signed between the GIO and the company], which would lead to the [revocation of the funds],” Chen Bau-shu said before meeting GIO officials.
Chen Bau-shu said the film production and the distributor jointly decided to pull the film from the festival as “there was a weird ambiance going around the film festival.”
Repeatedly asked by reporters to specify what she meant by “weird ambiance,” Chen declined to elaborate, saying the festival was “politicized” and had lost the spirit a film festival should have.
“[We made the decision because of] the complexity of the festival’s atmosphere. There were many political issues involved … Initially we thought the film festival may be an opportunity to promote the film, but now we’d rather not get involved,” she said.
Chen Bau-shu said that it was only a “coincidence” that Miao Miao was pulled at the same time as the Chinese movies.
“I don’t agree with the criticism that we withdrew the movie to cater to China. The withdrawal of the movie has nothing to do with our plan to broadcast the movie in China,” she said, adding she did not know if China was suppressing Uighurs.
“It’s not my business,” she said.
Asked about the impact of the withdrawal on Taiwan’s image, Chen Bau-shu said: “I can only say I am very sorry for the damage the withdrawal did to Taiwan’s image.”
In an e-mail to the Taipei Times later yesterday, a representative from Jet Tone in Hong Kong wrote: “Regarding … the issue of [the] GIO subsidy [to the movie festival], our production Miao Miao has entered all the international film festivals so far as an entry of Taiwan/Hong Kong. Jet Tone Films is listed on all documents as the production company and this is in no conflict with any existing regulations. We have already explained this point to the Government Information Office Film Dept.”
“The withdrawal from the Melbourne Film Festival [was] made by the film owner who believes the current edition of the festival has become a hotbed of political ideas and jeopardize[d] any dialogue and exchange amongst creative people,” the firm wrote. “Thus we [took] the decision to withdraw from the festival. This is [not in] conflict with existing regulation and there is no external factor influencing our decisions. We hope you will all respect our decisions.”
“About the withdraw[al] from the Melbourne Film Festival, we regret that we did not have sufficient time to notify the Government Information Office. But we believe film art is above politics,” it said.
“The purpose of Taiwan’s Jet Tone Films is to groom the talents from Taiwan and support Taiwanese cinema,” it said. “Miao Miao was shot entirely in Taiwan using talents both in front and behind the camera.”
Jet Tone was founded by Hong Kong moviemaker Wang Kar-wai (王家衛), one of the three producers of Miao Miao. It has offices in Hong Kong, Taipei and Shanghai.
This article can be accessed on the Taipei Times Web site.
The language used by both Chen Bau-shu, the person in charge of Hong Kong Jet Tone Film’s business in Taiwan, and the communiqué sent me by Norman Wang at Jet Tone in Hong Kong is quite interesting. Chen’s purported ignorance regarding the repression of Uighurs by the Chinese state, her contention that the removal of the Chinese films and that from Taiwan was purely “coincidental” and her comments about the ambiance at the festival being “weird” all smack of Chinese propaganda.
Even worse was the communiqué, with its contention that “the current edition of the festival has become a hotbed of political ideas and jeopardize[d] any dialogue and exchange amongst creative people” and “film art is above politics,” which read like they were written by some propagandist back in Beijing (especially words like “hotbed.”
Since when are movies apolitical? Furthermore, if film are were above politics, as the communiqué states, the why would Chinese producers pull their movies over a political matter — the repression of Uighurs by China? Movie content will never be entirely apolitical. There is also a contradiction in the statement that a “hotbed of political ideas” is jeopardizing dialogue and exchange, which seems to be lost on the drafters of the memo.
Hopefully a price will be paid by those who made the decision to pull the movies from the festival, if only in bad publicity and diminishing sales at the box office. One can hope, too, that this will have served as a wake-up call for Taiwanese creative artists and government agencies such as the GIO that have pushed for cross-strait cooperation in the arts. One thing is sure: I’m never paying to see a movie directed, written or produced by Wang Kar-wai again. My Blueberry Nights, though cute, wasn’t all that great anyway.