It has been a controversial path to theatrical release for Lu Chaun’s “City of Life and Death.” The film – which National Geographic picked up just prior to its international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival – had been scheduled to make its theatrical debut at New York City’s Film Forum on March 31, 2010. But late last week, the Film Forum announced the engagement had been cancelled, explaining that this was the decision of National Geographic, “Life”‘s distributor.
“We are still in negotiations with the Chinese film board about distributing ‘City of Life and Death’ in the United States and those negotiations are taking longer than anticipated,” a National Geographic rep told indieWIRE when contacted about the cancellation. “We don’t have much else to say at this point.”
“Life” is an epic tale of the defiance of citizens who survived the 1937 Japanese occupation of the Republic of China’s capital, Nanjing. The Chinese soldiers, civilians, women and children, along with American and European sympathizers — based on real personalities — fight to resist and survive when it could have been much easier for them to accept defeat or death.
The film received high marks from critics when it screened in Toronto, though experienced significant controversy this past January when China withdrew the film from the Palm Springs International Film Festival because the event had programmed a pro-Dalai Lama film, “The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom.”
Festival Director Darryl Macdonald said in Palm Springs that he had been contacted by Chinese officials who asked him to remove the film. “The request later turned into demands,” he said. “But we were determined to maintain our artistic autonomy.” Added Chairman Harold Matzner. “Even if it had been 50 films, we would’ve [taken out] 50 films…”
It’s unclear whether the reasoning behind the delay in negotiations between the Chinese Film Board and National Geographic are related to this event, but interestingly enough the film that is replacing “City of Life and Death” at the Film Forum is “The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom,” the same film that caused the controversy in Palm Springs.
“Prior to being informed by National Geographic Entertainment, the distributor of ‘City of Life and Death’, that they could not guarantee delivery of the film on the date previously agreed upon, we had been contacted by the filmmakers from ‘The Sun Behind The Clouds’ (this was during the Palm Springs Fest.) who asked us if we were interested in seeing the film,” Karen Cooper, Film Forum Director, said in a statement. “We said yes. We looked at the film and recognized its merits immediately: the first film that gives a detailed update on the struggle for Tibetan independence and gives an inside look at the conflict within the movement in terms of those who think a more militant position than the Dalai Lama’s “middle way” is necessary.”