Two previously scheduled New Directors/New Films screenings of Qiu Sheng’s “Suburban Birds” that were canceled because of changes to a Chinese film law have been rescheduled. The film will now screen Saturday April 6 at 8:30pm at MoMA Theater 2, followed by a Q&A with the director, and Sunday April 7 at 7:45pm at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, without a Q&A. It will also begin a run at the Metrograph starting Friday April 5, with the film set to debut in Los Angeles on April 19.
“Suburban Birds” had screened at the Locarno Film Festival in August 2018, and it received the “dragon seal” from the Chinese government, meaning that its content had been approved by film censors, in mid-February. However, a law that was published last year but only just recently took effect requires that mainland filmmakers also receive a release certificate to screen the film outside of China. Previously, the certificate was only needed to screen the film in China. Qiu has now received the required certificate for foreign release, and its ND/NF screenings have thus been rescheduled.
If Qiu had screened the film without the certificate he could have been subject to a fine by the Chinese government and banned from making films for five years.
It appears there’s been significant confusion about the requirements of this release certificate, as the official reason given for the pulling of Zhang Yimou’s film “One Second” from the Berlin Film Festival lineup in February was also due to a lack of a release certificate for foreign exhibition. Whether that reason was cover for that film dealing with the still-taboo subject of the Cultural Revolution remains unclear.
An official statement from Cinema Guild, the North American distributor for “Suburban Birds” said the following:
“In mid-February, Suburban Birds
Later, the production company received a warning from the administration saying that according to a new China Film Law, the film needed a release certificate before it could be screened overseas. In the past, the release certificate had only been required for domestic theatrical release in China. The new law was published last year but only enacted recently.
After the warning, the production company took some time to gather all the materials needed for the release certificate and submitted them to the administration. Unfortunately, the film didn’t receive the certificate in time, so we had to cancel the two screenings at ND/NF. On Wednesday, the film officially received the certificate and we are now free to show it all over the world.”
In a follow-up, director Qiu Sheng gave the following statement: “First of all, I’m extremely happy that ‘Suburban Birds’ will screen in New York, and that I can meet with the audiences who see it. Secondly, it is not safe to make independent films in China. There are a lot of limitations, and you never feel totally free when making films. I hope filmmaking regulations can become more open and transparent.”