"Windhorse" Yanked From Hawaii Fest By Director
by Mark Rabinowitz
In a twist on a classic phrase, a case of "he said, he said," has
enveloped this year's Hawaii International Film Festival (HIFF).
Director Paul Wagner has pulled his film, "Windhorse," from the
festival, less than ten days before the event's opening night. Exactly
what occurred in the months leading up to the withdrawal of the film is
still unclear. Wagner claims that the HIFF bowed to political pressure
from the People's Republic of China (PRC) by removing the film from
According to Wagner, the PRC attempted to force last April's Washington
D.C. International Film Festival to remove the film, and they refused.
"Windhorse" portrays the imprisonment and torture of Tibetan Buddhist
nuns, according to a release from Wagner.
On August 14th, Wagner received a fax from the HIFF informing him of his
acceptance into the festival "as a nominee for our highest Award, the
Golden Maile for best feature film." Shortly thereafter, the festival
was offered a slate of six films, including four world premieres, from
the PRC. In a telephone conversation on Wednesday, Festival Director
Christian Gaines told indieWIRE that the HIFF had received rumors that
if "Windhorse" was allowed to screen at the festival, China would pull
their six films. After examining several options, including pulling the
film from the festival, both Wagner and the HIFF decided that
"Windhorse" should screen at the festival. "Obviously, we're not going
to acquiesce to the PRC. We're not going to make a political statement
one way or the other," said Gaines. During these conversations, no
mention of the competition was made by either side, according to Gaines.
However, when Wagner received the fest's program guide in the mail, he
noticed that "Windhorse" was not listed as being one of the five films
in the competition. He then called the HIFF to express his concern over
this removal. According to both Wagner and the HIFF, he was then told
that the removal of the film was due to an administrative error, but
that the festival could not reinstate the film to competition status.
Gaines reiterated the "administrative error" reasoning for the removal,
and stated that the festival "did not make a decision to exclude the
film from competition." The fact remains, however, that the film had
been nominated for the award in August, but was not in competition when
the program guide was printed. According to Gaines, the result of the
error was that the festival had already programmed five films in the
competition section, and to add another one, even one that had
previously been awarded a competition slot, would be to open the fest to
a barrage of complaints from filmmakers whose films weren't chosen to
Speaking with indieWIRE by telephone on Wednesday, Wagner stated that
"it's disappointing, it's upsetting and it's a little frightening that
[Gaines] would initially ask us to pull our film from the fest just
because the Chinese had offered him a slate of four films, and then
later unilaterally pull our film from competition for that reason." For
his part, Gaines denied that the position of the Chinese government on
"Windhorse," had anything to do with the film's removal from competition.
"There's no politically motivated reason why the film did not go into
competition," he said, adding that "the accusation of using the Golden
Maile award to silence political dissent, I resent very very very very
much." While Wagner, speaking of Gaines, remains "sympathetic to his
problems," and thinks that there was "a very real possibility that
[the HIFF] would have lost [the Chinese] films when [China] found out
that ["Windhorse" was] in the festival, he maintains that "it wouldn't
be a big deal if six films were nominated" for the Golden Maile.
Whatever the reason for the removal of the film from competition and the
resulting withdrawal from the fest by Wagner, "Windhorse" will not be
screened as a part of this year's festival.