Interview with Jia Zhang-ke, founder of PYIFF

Image Courtesy of 圖片提供 x PYIFF 平遙國際電影展
Translated by 翻譯 x Nicholas Anderson 尼古拉斯•安德森
Edited by 編輯 x Michelle Yu 余小悦


Jia Zhang-ke is one of the most critically acclaimed filmmakers working in China. He is both an award-winning auteur film director and producers. His films have received critical praise and have been recognized internationally. His first feature film “Xiao Wu” (“The Pickpocket”, 1998)received a great success,winning both the Wolfgang Staudte Award and the NETPAC Award at the Berlin International Film Festival. His film “Still Life” won the Golden Lion Award in the Venice Film Festival in 2006 and his film “A Touch of Sin” selected in Competition at the Festival de Cannes 2013 won the Best Screenwriter Award. In 2010, Jia received Locarno’s Leopard of Honour, while in 2015, he was awarded the Carrosse d’Or prize at the Cannes Festival.


ART.ZIP: From the perspective of choosing the films for Pingyao International Film Festival, are there any unique ideas that separate this from other national or international film festivals?

JZK: I personally don’t specifically participate in the selection work. We have a team of 8 people, they take charge of the process of finding, watching and contacting various film teams. According to the year’s specific creative plan they will frame their viewpoint and understanding. Selecting films for a film festival is an abstract proposition and relies on the creative needs of the actual situation. For film selection teams, their main focus is to understand these films and to capture their creative aspects, as well as sorting a trend from them. All these finds will form a curatorial approach to inform the audience.

ART.ZIP: What is the ratio of Chinese and non-western films showing at this film festival?

JZK: We don’t have a set ratio. If a particular region’s films are especially prominent in the year, we will select more films from that region, it is not considered from a set ratio point of view.

ART.ZIP: These non-Chinese, non-western films all reflect different societies and contexts. For Chinese audiences there must be some difficulty in connecting with them?

JZK: From a personal point of view, I feel that non-western films can be understood by China because they are closer to Chinese society, the level of development is more similar. Of course, another important part of the film festival is the academic forum. Pingyao International Film Festival emphasizes academic discussion, we will gather world-class film historians, film critics and conduct multi-event symposiums and other academic activities.

ART.ZIP: If a prominent film reflects societal problems and differences to mainstream values, will they be included in your selection?

JZK: We only have one selection standard, an artistic standard. However we must also operate in accordance with the Chinese Film Act.

ART.ZIP: You mentioned Pingyao International Film Festival will establish a specific evaluation system, can you specifically talk about this?

JZK: The recognition and evaluation system of the artistry of film is based on the overall understanding of contemporary movies. For a variety of reasons, films made outside of China, Europe and America, cannot be fully understood, commented and discussed. There are areas that have for a long time been active components of film’s language, expanding the overall craft as well as being able to describe human life from different angles. Each nation’s respective industrial strengths and weaknesses affect the spread of the outstanding creative work and the understanding of their artistic value. In my experience of working in China, every year China has many young directors, but the number of people understanding of them is actually limited. Pingyao International Film Festival hopes to draw people attention to these overlooked films. We’d like to share these cultural achievements with more people. Using this film festival, we hope to establish a new vision and use the nature of a film festival to more effectively air these movies.

ART.ZIP: What kind of benefits do you expect this film festival to have on Chinese cinema?

JZK: I hope that the films shown at the film festival will inspire people working in the Chinese film industry, at the same time, I hope that through the film festival, it will encourage greater understanding and cooperation between Chinese filmmkers and the film industry all over the world.

ART.ZIP: To the winners or selected directors, what kind of follow up support will they get?

JZK: Pingyao International Film Festival is a young film festival, freshly conceived. We hope the first few years will allow people to understand this film festival, at the same time I also hope to organize more resources in the future, to allow the participating directors to benefit more.

ART.ZIP: Many film festivals, apart from featuring films also focus on networking, so with Pingyao International Film Festival what plans are there to develop business and industry connections?

JZK: We hope to gain more confidence in the film industry. So that they can more actively participate in the festival’s activities. But the festival is just a platform. We won’t specially intervene in the film industries work. Simply speaking the festival aims to pave the road for creative filmmakers.

ART.ZIP: What is the biggest challenge in creating this film festival?

JZK: Apart from the team selecting the films, our organization has a lack of experience. We hope through 3 years of hosting we will become an experienced and creative group.

ART.ZIP: Apart from Shanxi being your hometown, is there any other reason that you chose Pingyao to host the film festival? 

JZK: Small cities are well suited to hosting film festivals. In relatively peaceful cities, it is easy to focus on the festival. In Pingyao we have an independent cinema, guest can easily meet and interact, undisturbed by the hustle and bustle of a big city.ART.ZIP: For people coming to Pingyao for the first time, how would you recommend they spend a day?

JZK: Apart from watching the movie, the audience’s attention can be drawn to the surroundings. I suggested everyone treats Pingyao as the centre, tracks connect Jinzhong to the surrounding counties. Because Jinzhong has a large number of cultural relics, the attractions are close to Pingyao and easy to access.