Xining, a socio-cultural peripheral city in northwest China, is the place to catch the latest Chinese independent films. After all, this is the site of FIRST International Film Festival, the largest independent film festival in the country. This year’s edition will last for one week, from July 27 to August 4.
Announced on June 28, the program for the 16th edition of the festival includes 19 feature film productions and 22 short films selected from 833 applications.
FIRST, which some have touted as China’s answer to the Sundance Film Festival, is famous for promoting emerging filmmakers, and this year is no exception. According to a Press release of the organizers, 83% of the feature films selected for the 2022 screenings are first films in production. In addition, 54.8% of directors were born in the 1990s and 15.5% were born in the 2000s.
Defending amateurism, FIRST reported that more than half of respondents to a questionnaire identify as non-professional directors and screenwriters. The announcement also highlights an entry from a 17-year-old filmmaker – the youngest entrant this year.
Once an on-campus film event, the festival has come a long way since 2006. It is now considered the main outpost of new Chinese and independent arthouse films.
Directed by Zhang Dalei in 2016, summer is gone won Best Feature at FIRST before picking up three more awards — including Best Feature — at the Golden Horse Awards. 2014 film by Xin Yukun The coffin in the mountain also made history as a commercially successful independent film.
According to FIRST, this year’s documentaries highlight “public events experienced by socially marginalized groups”.
Previous film selections for FIRST suggest the festival is leaning towards specific story styles. In addition to championing intimate narratives that speak to a larger societal context, such as urbanization, FIRST also advocates for black people navigating complex human relationships in contemporary Chinese society, especially if seen through the eyes of aberrant people.
Renowned FIRST Film Festival jury members for 2022 include actress Zhang Ziyi (president), director and screenwriter Mei Feng, and professor of Chinese literature and cinema Michael Berryamong others.
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See the full line-up for the main competition here
All photos are courtesy of the organizer unless otherwise stated