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Nothing about Cinema, Everything about Freedom : A Statement from Ying Liang

jeudi 31 mai 2012

I’m experiencing quite a unique campaign for "film marketing" : every time when I finish a new
film, I’d send some film stills and relevant materials to the media. But this time, what is in focus
here is not the film itself. Most interview requests are not from the film-related media. It’s not that
I don’t want to talk about other topics, but that the attention now is not directed to the quality of
my new work.

For a filmmaker, the fact that the film has become a topic as such can’t be more embarrassing and
unfortunate. What I have experienced and what I envision will happen in the future have made me
to accept such a fact : "JUST CINEMA", which indicates on the one hand that the power of cinema
shouldn’t be over-evaluated, and on the other hand, cinema could achieve everything.

I cannot totally agree with the latter opinion about the importance of cinema. At least I don’t
"simply", "solely" or "absolutely" believe in such a statement. But there are people who insist that
films could be so important that they would do everything to prove and guard this claim via public
power and public instrument, which corners me, a negligible filmmaker, to a political or
politicized predicament.

When receiving the invitation from the Jeonju Digital Project (JDP) by Jeonju International Film
Festival (JIFF), I was experiencing my bottleneck period. For more than two years I haven’t shot
any new work. The JDP has given me the chance to relish in the freedom and joy in filmmaking
again. In recent eight and nine years, I have altogether shot four features and several short films,
ending up getting lost in the search for motivations. Every time upon finishing shooting a new
story, I’d be soon taught a lesson by actual events in life, of which the degree of absurdity, cruelty
and sense of black humor usually exceed that of film stories, and they are way beyond our
imagination too.

At the same time, I have come to the realization that a film made purely out of personal interest
and likes could do nothing to help friends around me, and it may even push them to a worsened
condition-----in this way, I’ve been cast spell by both cinema and life. Feeling confused, I have to
stop and grope for an answer.

When Night Falls tells the story about the mother of a murderer. She has been kept away from the
legal proceedings so that she has no idea about her son’s death penalty. It’s based on a real case in
2008. It is from the perspective of a mother that I shot this film for the JDP. It turns out that the
curse works again, here goes the details :

November 29, 2011
I received the invitation from Jeonju International Film Festival to participate in the Jeonju Digital
Project of 2012. At that time I had already worked for 3 months as an artist in residence at the
School of Film and Television, Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.

February 20, 2012
The shooting of When Night Falls was done, and we started to edit. The film was then scheduled
to premiere at Jeonju on April 28.

February 24, 2012
Friends of mine at Hangzhou and Shanghai were approached by people sent by the National
Security Bureau from Shanghai. Because of my friends’ identities as teachers and students, the
Ministry of Education also intervened to inquire them.

April 7 , 2012
When calling my parents at Shanghai I learnt that there were policemen inquiring about When Night Falls two days ago at home. They wouldn’t believe that my parents didn’t know about it.
They required that the film should not be screened and it should be re-edited, and they could
compensate for my loss. They also took away the DVDs of my previous works from my parents’

April 14, 2012
The post-production of When Nights Falls completed, and the length is 70 minutes. The screener
was sent to JIFF.

April 16, 2012
My wife Peng Shan’s mother told us via QQ that the policemen from Shanghai arrived at Zigong,
Sichuan Province and approached Peng’s father. Their intention was to push the families to
persuade me to pull out the film from the festival or re-edit the film.

And Peng’s father added via QQ that he was approached by the policemen several times, and they
hope it would be made clear to me that the official believes that this film has twisted the facts
about Chinese legal systems, and has hurt the feelings of Shanghai police. If the film is screened,
negative international impacts would be expected, and if we don’t pull out the film, we wouldn’t
end up well. If we accept their offer, the police could compensate for any loss, and in the future
when I shoot film in the mainland they would support us.

The police even asked Peng Shan’s parents to take them to visit me at Hong Kong.

April 18, 2012
I received an email from my Shanghai’s families which says, “Your new film touched the nerves of
Shanghai, and during the past 12 days, they visited us at home for 7 times. The public security
bureau is watching you closely, and you would have difficulties crossing the borders...unless you
pull out the film or change your name. They would take hard stance. You cannot come back to
Mainland in the future.” My families also told me that the policemen had already read the film

April 19, 2012
I received several unidentified calls, and once it was connected, the caller would not directly speak
to me but would hand the phone to my mother. My mother would try to persuade me not to show
the film or re-edit it. I reminded them that the new film has nothing to do with my parents and the
policeman should directly approach me.

At night, there was someone who claimed that he was sent by the Office of the Foreign Affairs of
Shanghai Municipality calling me, and they hoped that on the second day I would be able to meet
their "cadre" at the Saiwan area of Hong Kong Island. I replied that they approached me in such a
hurry that we should just meet near my university. They agreed after discussion among themselves.

April 20, 2012
At 10 am at the Chifu Plaza near Pokfulam Village I met up with the two sent by the so-called "the
Office of the Foreign Affairs of Shanghai Municipality". One of them calls himself Director
Zhang, and another is Xiaochen. Their accusation had two parts,

1) The film has twisted the facts about the case ;
2) The film has offended the feelings and rights of the people involved.

My response,

1) I will consult with the lawyers about the legal issues ;
2) The copyright of my film belongs to JIFF, and you should approach them ;
3) As the director of the film, I don’t want to pull out my film or re-edit it.

That afternoon my wife consulted with a rights lawyer, and they told me both charges were simply

1) If the government doesn’t believe the film is based on facts of the case, then they should make
public the details of the case, and all the lawyers with professional integrity are waiting for this
day to come ;
2) If the film does hurt the feelings of people involved in the case, then the charges should be
raised by them. And that should be a civil lawsuit which doesn’t involve arrest.

Between April 21-23, 2012
Xiaochen from "the Office of the Foreign Affairs of Shanghai Municipality" texted me and kept
calling me 2-3 times per day. I picked up one phone call once and he tried again to persuade me to
approach the JIFF so they wouldn’t screen the film anymore. Suffering from the harassment I
blacklisted his number.

April 27, 2012
A SINA WEIBO (micro blog) user called "Ni Jiu Shi Ta" posted,

"When Night Falls before its opening, the JIFF was threatened by the CCP official, which
requested them to stop screening Ying Liang’s part in the Jeonju Digital Project. But the demand
was turned down by the festival. Then the CCP offered that, they would purchase the copyright of
the film with 10 billion Korean Won so the festival won’t screen the film. The festival still downed
them down".

In this message the weibo user also provided the web link from a news site of South Korea,

However this post was instantly deleted at WEIBO. This user again uses the English title of the
film When Night Falls to repost, which was finally deleted on May 13.

The item of When Night Falls at DOUBAN.COM(web 2.0 social network site in Chinese
language) was deleted (http://movie.douban.com/subject/10465114/)

April 28, 2012
When Night Falls was premiered at Jeonju, with around 1100 audience.
One of the programmers of the festival Ji-Hoon Jo also confirmed that there was a Korean man
who approached the city office and the festival office on behalf of a Chinese film company. He
wanted to buy the copyright of the film and required them to cancel the screening. But Jo refused

May 5, 2012
My families sent me two emails to convey the intention of the Public Security and National
Security, which says, if I return to Mainland China, I would be arrested, and there is no space for
negotiation. The branch bureau could arrest me without asking for authorization from the higher
levels, and my filmmaking has been filed as one of those "serious and important cases", so it
would be dealt with differently.

Also the branch bureau seemed to imply that I would be OK if I give up to be a Chinese.

Also, I hear from my friend that the order was given by the head of The Public Security Bureau of
Shanghai Municipality.

For the first time I mentioned at Facebook that my security was under threat and freedom was

May 8, 2012
One of my cousins told me that when she called my mother, she sounded calm, but the call was
discontinuous, so she was suspicious that the call was intercepted.

Between May 11-12, 2012
After two days’ communication with Ji-Hoon Jo via email, Ji-Hoon clarified the fact about the
circulating news on the 10 billion Korean Won (50 million RMB). Ji- Hoon told me that the news
was not accurate. The director of the festival at the opening ceremony surely mentioned “Chinese
government offered us 10,000,000,000 won to buy the film”. But the fact is as follows ;

Ji-Hoon emphasized that “a Korean businessman” indeed suggested the proposal of purchase and
the added conditions. But he never mentioned about the price. Also the details about the "Korean
businessman" are,
1) he repeatedly points out that he is not sent by the government,
2) he only knows that the film is made by Ying Liang, while having no idea about the Korean or
English title of the film.
3) he claims that he has business relationship with some rich businessmen in Shanghai, who asked
him to purchase the copyright at Jeonju

May 13,2012
My cousin again called my parents’ home at Shanghai, and they said they were no longer
approached by the Shanghai police, and they guessed it was because the police believed I had
already understood their intention. This cousin also told my parents about how I dealt with this
situation by mobilizing Facebook and WEIBO, and then she sent my best regards to my mother
for Mother’s Day. It was said that my parents seemed to be more relaxed, and they were from time
to time laughing.

In the future with the screening of When Night Falls at other places, the timeline above would be
constantly updated---I simply feel sad, and I am reminded of what Yang Jia said, "in a country run
by these policemen, even a law abiding citizen who’s obedient for more than 20 years would be
sentenced to prison "

What I have written above has nothing to do with my filmmaking. To be honest, in these years,
except love letters, I have got few chances to write about anything irrelevant to cinema. At the end
of the statement, I shall protest against Shanghai police and the CCP government on the following
issues :

Give back the independent filmmakers’ dignity !

Give me back the freedom for creation and speech, and also personal freedom !

Stop harassing and threatening my families and friends !

Stop all the ridiculous acts hindering the screenings of When Night Falls !

Make public the facts about Yang Jia’s case !

Cancel the surveillance around Yang Jia’s tomb, stop restricting Mrs. Wang Jingmei’s
freedom of speech and persona freedom !

Compensate for Mrs. Wang Jingmei’s loss and give her a reasonable explanation !

Ying Liang
May 14,2012 Hong Kong