Translating the Film Festival

Shanghai and Hong Kong: A Tale of Two Festivals

Chris Berry

The general issue animating the chapters in this volume concerns the specificity of film festival culture in the Chinese-speaking world. This chapter approaches that question through a comparison of two of the oldest and most well-established comprehensive international events in the Chinese-speaking world—the Hong Kong and Shanghai International Film Festivals. I have been visiting the Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) sporadically since the mid-1980s, and the Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF), also sporadically, in the new century, and I have conducted research interviews with key players at both events. In a later chapter in the anthology, Ran Ma examines how the festivals program Chinese cinema to show how they translate “Chinese cinema” to their audiences in very different ways. Here, I consider how they have translated the international film festival model into their local contexts.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, HKIFF and SIFF are very different. There is not much evidence of any general Chinese characteristics binding them together. This diversity among film festivals is not unique to the Chinesespeaking world. For example, the BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival seems to have more in common with other gay and lesbian film festivals

C. Berry (*)

King’s College London, London, UK © The Author(s) 2017

C. Berry, L. Robinson (eds.), Chinese Film Festivals, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-55016-3_2

than it does with comprehensive international film festivals like the BFI London Film Festival, even though both of them are run by the British Film Institute, in the same venue, in the same city and in the same country. Indeed, by adopting various globally circulating models for comprehensive and specialized film festivals, the recent boom in film festivals in the Chinese-speaking world and in particular the People’s Republic of China (PRC) can appear to be a simple case of copying and catching up.

However, while the next section of this chapter acknowledges that the film festival model is an import in the Chinese-speaking world, it also follows the arguments laid out in the introduction to this book and draws on translation theory to contest the assumption that importation means mere copying. Instead, it argues that translation is an active process that always involves change, and that this change can be understood as both local innovation rather than as a failure of translation and the site where the local makes itself apparent. However, this theoretical insight alone is not enough to grasp the nature of this process of change. The section goes on to ask, what is the local character of the “glocalization”1 that occurs and how is it produced?

The chapter addresses these issues by investigating how each festival has appropriated and localized different models of the international film festival. The HKIFF was launched in what Marijke de Valck has called in her analysis of the development of international film festivals, “the age of programmers.”2 The second section of the chapter shows how HKIFF has remained committed to the cinephile vision characterizing the programmer-driven festival, despite numerous recent changes that appear to suggest a different direction. However, it also argues that what might appear to be a generic cinephile vision has acquired different local meanings in Hong Kong in different eras. In contrast, SIFF was launched in de Valck’s “age of festival directors.”3 The chapter argues that, operating within this paradigm, SIFF has transformed the director-driven model in many ways, overdetermined by a drive to produce a particular Shanghai version of what Elena Pollacchi refers to as the “reputational festival” in her chapter here on the Beijing International Film Festival (BJIFF). In the case of SIFF, the reputation at stake is Shanghai’s projection of itself as a “world city.”

On the basis of these differences, I argue that we need to approach the process of translating film festival models into local contexts through the analysis of the stakeholder configuration as the actors performing the translation, and the context in which they do it. In the case of HKIFF and

SIFF, this has been two site-specific processes of mutual transformation: The film festivals have participated in the contested transformation of the cities and their culture, and the cities have transformed the festival model. In other words, this tale of two festivals really is a tale of two cities.

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