Film screenings and freedom of speech


The Kaohsiung Film Festival is in the midst of a controversy over the screening of The Ten Conditions of Love, a documentary about the life of exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer. The Film Festival announced its plans to screen the documentary earlier this month. Since then there has been increasing pressure on the film festival to withdraw the film to avoid a potential loss of Chinese tourists in Kaohsiung.

The Ten Conditions of Love created a controversy when it screened at the Melbourne Film Festival in August. The screening went ahead in the face of loud protests and interference from China. Other Chinese films were withdrawn from the festival. These included the Taiwanese film Miao Miao based on a decision by the film’s Hong Kong distributor. Chinese hackers also targeted the Melbourne Film Festival’s website. I understand the Kaohsiung Film Festival’s site has also been subject to attacks.

Over the weekend the Kaohsiung City Government announced that it would withdraw the documentary from the festival in October and screen it this week to avoid further controversy. While some might be happy that people in Taiwan will still have the chance to see the documentary, others were indignant that Kaohsiung City Government had interfered with the film festival’s independence.

Guts United, Taiwan (臺灣青年逆轉本部) published an article on its website calling on Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) not to betray her long time supporters. It said it is “completely astounded, regretful and indignant” by the decision to withdraw the documentary from the film festival. Guts United is also working to invite Rebiya Kadeer to visit Taiwan.

On Twitter Freddy Lim wrote:

是否支持熱比婭或是疆獨,這不是重點; 其他人安排在其他場地播,這也不是重點。高雄市政府用政治力干預影展內容,把一個影展該有的專業性、自主性都打爛,這算什麼人權市長?如果影展的最高指導 原則還是要被迫為政府服務,價值都只好放棄,那我們在台灣也沒 什麼好堅持的理想了。[Whether or not you support Rebiya or Xinjiang [East Turkestan] independence, this is not the key point; other people are preparing to screen the film at another venue, this is not the key point. The Kaohsiung City Government has let politics interfere with the contents of the film festival and harmed the expertise and autonomy of the film festival. Does the mayor really support human rights? If the film festival’s highest guiding principles are compelled to serve the government then it has lost all its value. In Taiwan nobody is prepared to uphold ideals.]

As a result of the decision of the Kaohsiung City Government, two Taiwanese directors have withdrawn their films from the Kaohsiung Film Festival in protest. Chen Yu-ching (陳育青) withdrew her documentary My Human Rights Journey (我的人權之旅) and Chen Li-gui (陳麗貴) withdrew A Burning Mission–Rescue the Political Prisoners of Taiwan (火線任務—台灣政治犯救援錄).

The two directors released a statement expressing their regret at the actions of the Kaohsiung City Government.

2009高雄電影節「人民的力量」單元有來自世界各國的影片,共同的主題皆為爭取人權、自由,抵抗國家與社會霸權。「愛的十個條件」為其中之一,這部紀錄 片的主角是勇敢追求新疆獨立的「熱比婭」女士。能與眾多優秀的影片同列「人民的力量」單元,我們感到十分榮幸,也非常期待高雄電影節到來。

遺 憾的是,中國不僅在澳洲墨爾本影展干預該片的放映,中共國台辦更發言干涉我國的傳播、言論自由;陳菊市長未能捍衛高雄影展的專業與獨立性,有愧於「人權城 市」之美名。同為創作者,我們認為已公開邀請的影片,因政治壓力而被迫在影展之前以「特別放映」之名草草「交代了事」,不僅是對創作者的羞辱,也否定熱比 婭女士致力追求的理想。

[The 2009 Kaohsiung Film Festival with the theme of “People Power” has films from around the world. Together they argue for human rights, freedom and resisting the hegemony of nations and society. Amongst these films The Ten Conditions of Love is number one. This documentary’s subject is Rebiya who is bravely fighting for Xinjiang [East Turkestan] independence. We felt greatly honored have our documentaries amongst so many excellent films and were greatly looking forward to the film festival.

We regret that China not only interfered with the Melbourne Film Festival, but the statement of the CCP’s Taiwan Affairs Office interfered with Taiwan’s film screening and freedom of speech. Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu was unable to defend the Kaohsiung Film Festival’s expertise and independence making us ashamed of Kaohsiung’s name as a “human rights city”. As artists we believe the already announced film being shifted to a “special screening” before the festival because of political pressure not only humiliates the artists, it goes against the ideals that Rebiya is seeking.]

Echo Taiwan wrote that Kaohsiung had surrendered to China’s pressure.

Being a city that has been the historical sources of democratic development in Taiwan, Kaoshiung city behaves with unbelievably naiveness by thinking that the pressure from pro-china power can be handled by partial compromise.

A-gu at That’s Impossible! called it the middle of the end. He wrote Kaohsiung had wussed out.

So, if the Kaohsiung city government will be willing to do this just to keep Chinese tourists coming in, I conclude we are now fully and irreversibly in China’s orbit. Get ready for soft unification, friends!

J. Michael Cole at the Far-Eastern Sweet Potato argues that the decision to screen the documentary early creates a dangerous precedent.

If Taiwanese do not take a firm stand against this cultural aggression, and if, by doing nothing, they allow Chinese censorship to determine the content of what we’re allowed to access in Taiwan, then the creeping transformation will only accelerate and Beijing will have won.

An article about the controversy in Kaohsiung on Michael Turton’s blog attracted some interesting comments. Michael had a more sympathetic point of view to the change in the screening of the documentary and wrote, “I think it is a good idea to move the screening — we made our political point, and there is an election soon….”

I’ll end this article by stating my opinion. The decision to move the screening of the film forward is a result of political pressure from China. Some might argue that freedom of speech has been maintained as people still have a chance to watch the film. However, the integrity and principle of freedom of speech in the Kaohsiung Film Festival has been undermined. Taiwan needs nothing less than 100% freedom of speech to safeguard its democracy and independence.

Addendum: The Liberty Times (自由時報) reports that the film will be screened at the Kaohsiung Film Festival after all (25 September 2009). Report in English in the Taipei Times: Documentary on Kadeer will screen at film festival. Check the Kaohsiung Film Festival website for details of screening times. (28 September 2009)

3 thoughts on “Film screenings and freedom of speech

  1. I agree with you Dave. There’s political expediency and then there’s capitulation on a principle that will make defending that principle later even harder. I’d like to know who leaned on the Kaohsiung City Government and how …

  2. I think you hit the “bigger picture” right on. The real story here, like you say, is the beginning (or continuation?) of China’s control over Taiwan via economic power. It irks me so much that Taiwanese can’t seem to understand that sure, China can open up their money to Taiwan and pour in investments, but at the same time, take it away in a snap.

  3. Pingback: Taiwan screens film and defends freedom - David on Formosa

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