Italian producer Marco Müller shares views on Pingyao film festival

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/5 17:58:39

Mark Müller (far left) and Jia Zhangke (far right) attend a press conference with the Youth cast and crew at the first Pingyao International Film Festival. Photo: IC

While most film festivals try to be as grand as possible, the newly established Pingyao International Film Festival (PYIFF) wishes to remain small-scale.

Running from October 28 to Saturday, the first PYIFF earned considerable media attention, perhaps because it involved the cooperation of Chinese auteur director Jia Zhangke as founder and Italian film producer Marco Müller as artistic director, the appearance of A-list film stars or the festival's unique presentation.   

Having Feng Xiaogang's Youth open the festival also added a sense of mystery to the festival. A little over a month ago, the film was delayed just days before its scheduled release on September 29 with no explanation, leading to rumors that the film had run aground of censorship issues as one scene touches upon the Sino-Vietnam war, a subject rarely touched upon in Chinese TV and film productions.

In an exclusive phone interview with the Global Times, Müller talked about how he came to work at the festival and shared his opinion on film festivals in China and abroad.

A dream come true

An old friend of Jia's for almost 20 years now, Müller said that at the end of 2015 Jia talked with him about his dream to establish a film festival in Pingyao, an ancient city in Jia's home province of Shanxi in North China, since about one third of his time was being spent traveling from film festival to another overseas and he wanted a chance to act as a host for once at a film festival. 

The next summer Müller paid a visit to Pingyao. Then and there, the beautiful ancient city's hospitable environment made him see its potential as host to a new film festival.

"It was the perfect place to fulfill his dream and at the same time also my dream," he told the Global Times. "My dream was that finally we could have in this country a filmmakers' film festival, a festival made for the people who make films and the people who go to see the films."

Along with the growth of the Chinese film market, an increasing number of film festivals are held in China each year, with the Shanghai International Film Festival and Beijing International Film Festival the most famous ones. The Xining FIRST Film Festival has also been earning a reputation for itself as well.

One thing PYIFF organizers have been adamant about is keeping the festival small.

"It was an important decision you know… In English you could call it a boutique festival," Müller explained, using the example of the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado in the US.

"It's probably one of the festivals that all the filmmakers in the world love the best… young viewers, young audiences can access films and filmmakers in an easy going way."

By comparison, Müller said the film festivals in Beijing and Shanghai are too big, and therefore have too many activities happening at the same time, which leaves attendees feeling at a loss as to what to choose.

He suggested that instead of providing a long list of choices, sometimes it is better to choose for the audience.

"You cannot give them 400 films and say now it's up to you to decide what you want to see, you have to tell them I think this film is more important than these other films by the way you program it, by the way you give emphasis to some films over others," Müller, who has been artistic director for the Venice and Berlin film festivals, said.

This year's PYIFF screened a total of 52 films during the week, covering classic films like Jean-Pierre Melville's 24 Hours in the Life of a Clown and John Woo's A Better Tomorrow to new works from Portugal, Austria and Argentina. There was also a competition section in which audiences could vote for their favorite films.

An exhibition room at the first Pingyao International Film Festival Photo: Wei Xi/GT

Film festivals around the world

While film festivals in China are expanding, the situation is a bit different in Europe. Cannes has been criticized for using star power to attract more attention as fewer and fewer art films have been heading to the festival, while the conflict between Netflix and Cannes also raised concern that traditional film festivals are facing challenges from new media. 

"One of the reasons why film festivals should continue to exist is to make sure that the emotion you feel when you are watching a film on a very big screen continues to exist," Müller said. "I'm not scandalized by having a film produced by Netflix show at a festival, but I am scandalized by the fact that a very special film will only be shown on a big screen on that one occasion. I think Netflix is producing a lot of very good movies, maybe they can find a way so that more and more festivals, at least, can offer viewers the possibility of seeing those films under ideal conditions with great images on a big screen and perfect sound."

Müller also pointed out that he feels there is a more strict censorship in the European market than in China.

"Because even if all films have to pass censorship review in this country, this still results in a very wide selection of films from around the world coming here. Market censorship in Europe works so that there is only space just for American films… I think festivals are there to prove that you need a variety, you need a dynamics."

Professing his admiration for Youth, Müller said that he was puzzled about why the film had not been invited to other film festivals.

"It's such an important major work that a festival like Venice would actually need a film like Youth," he added.
Newspaper headline: Taking a different path


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