Xuanpian Versus Programming

Finally, I want to briefly return to Frodon’s observations about SIFF’s below-average programming. Although in Chinese, we understand and translate “programming” into “xuanpian,” and “programmer” as “xuanpianren,” it might be necessary to turn to the gaps and differences existing between SIFF’s practices and conceptualization of xuanpian and xuan- pianren and the popular understanding of programming and programmer. Instead of simply emphasizing that A-list festivals in Europe and the USA have presented a “better” and “more authentic” model for programming, I argue that the perceived gaps between “xuanpian” and “programming” have not merely mirrored linguistic incongruences in translation but also illustrate SIFF’s negotiation of its position in the global film festival hierarchy both in conceptual and practical terms. Therefore, a more productive approach is to observe how the Shanghai festival has gradually formulated a vocabulary and concepts to articulate its programming ideals as well as practices. It is tempting to argue that it is within the gradual progress of translations and transplantations that the festival is able to both update its operational framework according to the “international trends” (such as installing digital film or short film sections, and adding film award and film markets), and develop local practices and discourses of programming in sync with Chinese sociocultural and political contexts.

Usually, SIFF’s festival catalog provides an Organizing Committee (zuzhi weiyuanhui) list of names, composed predominantly of Chinese Communist Party officials, and without mentioning any festival “director” or “programmer.” Prior to 2008, SIFF’s xuanpianren team consisted of experts and scholars, some of whom may have had difficulties reading English subtitles. Therefore, the festival had to hire interpreters to assist their understanding. In following years, the selection team was expanded to include film directors, critics, and film theater managers as well as pro- ducers.35 For the current SIFF selection process, the team of selectors consists of roughly 100 people, 50 of whom are experts and gatekeepers in charge of evaluation and selection, with the others being mostly postgraduate students at local universities who take care of technical issues and preliminary categorization. There are three stages, the final round of which is the most important since it is then that the basic lineup is confirmed. Furthermore, if entries finally win awards at SIFF or other film festivals, SIFF will cash award the selector who recommends the title.36

The issue of xuanpianren at SIFF came to light in May 2014, roughly a month before the 17th edition, when the film festival took the initiative of publishing a long list of “film selectors” (xuanpianren) and its “Film Selection Process” (xuanpianren jizhi),37 although the whole set of practices had been in place for some time already. In the light of such a high-profile publicity stunt, it may be surprising to learn that the SIFF used to refuse to acknowledge the very existence of film scouts and selectors, never mind elaborate upon them. If we take into account the collective nature of the film selection process, and that not even the most eminent selector has the authority to independently finalize the competition entries, then it is to the reasons for the eclectic assortment of films at SIFF are clear. On the other hand, however, the semi-democratizing practices of selection also nourish and inform the local cinephile culture, a topic that deserves further academic exploration.

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