Indie Filmmakers and the “Dragon Seal”

Critics claim that the Chinese state’s control over and censorship of the film industry has stifled profits and creativity. Today the Los Angeles Times reports more indie filmmakers, such as Yang Jin, are looking for the “dragon seal”:

But in the last few years, more and more filmmakers like Yang have been trying to carve out a new middle ground: They are developing scripts for art house-style movies that can win a “dragon seal” (Chinese censors’ official stamp of endorsement). As the number of these government-approved indie films grows, a nascent Chinese industry — production houses and exhibitors — is emerging to support them.

The trend is not without its detractors, who fret that a new generation of filmmakers may be sacrificing its artistic integrity. But Yang and others say independent filmmaking in China can be broader than just underground cinema.

While non-dragon seal films can be sold only overseas or online, Yang said applying for a dragon seal, so that a film can be screened domestically, does not necessarily mean making a deal with the devil.

Among members of the younger generation, though, there seems to be an expectation — perhaps naive, perhaps practical — that they will simply hop back and forth between the two worlds of dragon seal and underground independent film with little conflict.

Indie films in China continue to run into trouble with the government with the power outages earlier this year at the Beijing Independent Film Festival. While the “dragon seal” is available for filmmakers, other filmmakers, such as Lou Ye, have taken a more confrontational approach when dealing with government censorship.

See also “Devils on the Doorstep”: Film Censorship Up Close, via CDT.

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