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Beijing Queer Film Festival goes off without ban for first time in 12 years

Sixth Beijing Film Festival is heralded as a great success, with 28 films from five countries show and 25 scholarship places awarded to queer people from less developed parts of China, and no intervention from the authorities
Chinese director Xie Fei who participated in a panel discussion about censorship in the film industry

Beijing Queer Film Festival went off smoothly in the centre of the Chinese capital for the first time in the the event's 12 year history last week.

The first festival in 2001 was shut down by government officials, the second edition was forced to move from Peking University to the 798 art district and the authorities forced organizers to cancel the fifth festival in 2011.

This year's festival, the sixth, was 'guerilla style' with venues announced at the last minute to avoid any interference from the authorities. More organized screenings were also held and the French and Dutch Embassies and the American Center.

There was no publicity advertising the sixth Beijing Film Festival, events were billed as separate film screenings. Only after the festival from 19 to 23 June did filmmaker and festival founder Fan Popo announce 'I'm glad to say that now you can finally recount all of your festival experiences on your Weibo [China's Twitter] accounts'.  

'Through word-of-mouth, the festival gathered a full house at nearly all of its screenings, and only the occasional attendee was surprised to notice that the Beijing Queer Film Festival was behind the different queer film activities,' said a statement from the festival organizers.

A scholarship program, started in 2011, awarded funding for 25 people from less-developed parts of China to attend. 'They gladly embraced the opportunity to watch and discuss queer-themed films, an unknown luxury in their respective hometowns,' said the organizers.

Twenty-eight films from nine different countries were screened, including films from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

I'm Here, a film by Choi Lan Sin, a young filmmaker from Macau said visiting the film festival gave her 'more understanding about the queer world' and taught her 'about the progress of the rights movement in different countries'.

This year's Beijing Queer Film Festival had a special focus on Japan. Genya Fukunaga from Kansai Queer Film Festival curated a program of four Japanese films with LGBTI themes.

Japanese director Inoue Kana burst into tears after the screening of her film I Don't Care about an intersex main character. She said she was moved by the fact the Chinese audience received the film so well, as it was misunderstood in Japan.

A program of films under the title Did You See Me? focused on less visible sections of the LGBTI community: bisexuality, asexuality, intersex and transgender people, sex workers and sadomasochism.

There was also a debate on censorship in the Chinese film industry, with the participation of well-known Chinese director Xie Fei. He said that film censorship in China is connected to the contradictions within the political system. None of the panelists were optimistic that China's strict censorship rules would be changed soon.

At the festival's closing ceremony the chairs for the next Beijing Film Festival in 2015 were announced as Queer Comrades' Wei Xiaogang and Stijn Deklerck.

'A lot can change within two years,' said Wei. 'The only thing that's certain is that we need to continue to fight to obtain greater freedom of expression.'   

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