4/3/2010: EDITORIAL - FILM GETS THE CHINA SWAGGER SYNDROME
By Andrew L. Urban
America has finally lost its No 1 ranking in the Global Swagger Championships
to China in the wake of the Copenhagen climate change summit, and soon after
that by their Swagger Maximus turn over the Australian documentary, 10
Conditions of Love by Jeff Daniels, which is being released this week (through
Umbrella Entertainment, exclusively through Borders stores). [See our review]
The film follows the personal and political struggle of Rebiya Kadeer, regarded
as the most galvanizing leader of the Uyghur people of East Turkestan in 60
years. The Uyghurs are now under Chinese rule and struggling against loss of
culture and freedoms, much like the Tibetans.
"wide media coverage"
This is the film, you may recall, that was programmed for the 2009 Melbourne
Film Festival and attracted wide media coverage when the Chinese demanded it be
withdrawn. That was never going to happen. The Festival invited Kadeer (who now
lives in exile in the US but is still very active as a voice for her people) to
attend the screening.
The Chinese authorities then demanded that Kevin Rudd refuse her a visa. That
was never going to happen, either. The PM was in no position politically to
accede to that demand, even if he wanted to. The Chinese case rests on Kadeer
being labelled a terrorist by the Chinese, yet she has been twice nominated for
a Nobel Peace Prize. It’s naïve to think that if she really were a terrorist she
would enjoy the kind of respect she is generating in the US, Muslim or not.
China should learn something from the Melbourne controversy; it generated more
global publicity for the film than any other film managed to generate last year.
(If you enter 10 Conditions of Love on Google, you’ll see it has had 262 million
requests – and that’s not counting 160 million download requests. Avatar returns
232 million.) It also helped establish Rebiya Kadeer as a world figure alongside
the Dalai Lama – something she had been striving to achieve for years.
Screenings in New Zealand and in Japan, where the Chinese simply put out a press
release denouncing her but otherwise kept a low profile, were poorly attended
and nobody in the media even noticed.
The more recent controversy around the film concerns ABC TV, which had slotted
it for broadcast on December 17, 2009. Believing the broadcast would promote
public interest, Umbrella Entertainment acquired DVD distribution rights and set
in motion its marketing plans. When the ABC took the film out of its program
schedule, it did not explain the reason, which fed into speculation (not
unreasonably given the circumstances of the ABC’s desire to work in and with
China) that it was a self-censoring move. Denials did nothing to assure
Australians that China’s swagger has got to Championship proportions.
Indeed, there are other indications that Australian Government agencies are all
ultra sensitive about the film. One such agency is reported to have sent advice
to Foreign Affairs when the film was screened (for about 30 people) at a
regional film society; according to producer John Lewis, “there was talk that
the Australian Ambassador in Beijing was to be advised of the screening.”
But the ABC is not the only broadcaster unwilling to upset the Chinese: foreign
sales of The Conditions of Love are hard to close at the prospect of China’s
"she argues for autonomy and human rights"
The 10 Conditions of Love does not reveal Kadeer to be a terrorist; she
doesn’t advocate violence and she doesn’t even argue for independence for East
Turkestan; like the Dalai Lama, she argues for autonomy and human rights. China
has now ensured that she is heard around the world, taking her message to
several millions who wonder why China is so scared of her agenda?
Last year, The Cove, the doco about dolphin slaughter in Japan, triggered the
cutting of sister city relations between Broome (NT, Australia) and Taiji, Japan
(where the annual slaughter takes place). It also impacted on the dolphin hunt
that was to start in September.
Shark Water (2006) had its first impact in Costa Rica, which sits on one of the
two richest shark waters in the world, alongside the Galapagos. Rob Stewart’s
film enjoyed its first taste of making a difference, when five days after the
film’s opening there, Costa Rica banned all foreign landings of sharks.
Films can make a difference – and China’s official response to The 10 Conditions
of Love proves that they know that.
Published March 4, 2010
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Andrew L. Urban
10 Conditions of Love
John Lewis, Producer