One of China’s longest-running independent film festivals has decided to shut down against the backdrop of mounting government censorship, saying it was no longer possible to run a “purely independent” festival in the country.
The China International Film Festival (CIFF) made the announcement in a post Thursday on its official WeChat social media account.
“We believe that under current local organisational conditions, it is impossible to organise an effective film festival that has a pure, independent spirit,” it said.
The statement gave no other details on the reasons, but the shutdown comes amid a dramatic tightening of censorship on Chinese media and entertainment under the government of President Xi Jinping.
The CIFF was founded in the eastern city of Nanjing in 2003 and was staged 14 times, its announcement said.
The festival was known to have screened films on sensitive subjects such as homosexuality and controversies surrounding the massive Three Gorges Dam project in central China.
China has long operated what is widely considered the most sophisticated online censorship apparatus, which blocks Chinese internet users from accessing a wide range of content that the government considers politically objectionable.
But under Xi – the most powerful Chinese leader in decades – Beijing has ramped up censorship while pushing a nationwide drive for more media that glorifies the ruling Communist Party.
Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post quoted Zhang Xianmin, a Beijing Film Academy professor and the festival’s key organiser, as saying the shutdown takes China back to a more restricted era for film.
“We just went back to 20 years ago, when there was no room and opportunity for independent films,” Zhang was quoted as saying.
A range of other annual film festivals continue to operate in China.