Jia Zhangke Teams With Momo and Other Stories From Pingyao Film Festival

By Bryan Grogan, October 24, 2019

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Pingyao houses a beautifully preserved walled city, is home to delicious Pingyao cold beef (obviously) and, as one of our editors said, is basically one huge UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 2,800-year-old settlement in Shanxi province is awash in Chinese history and, more recently, culture. 

While Pingyao is deemed one of China’s best kept tourist secrets, lesser known is that Pingyao’s Ancient City is also home to one of China’s youngest film festivals, Pingyao International Film Festival (PYIFF), which was founded in 2017 by famed director Jia Zhangke, with the help of Marco Muller, who was formerly artistic director of Venice Film Festival.

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Image by Matthew Bossons/That’s

2019 marked the third iteration of the festival, which has previously screened works by the likes of Chloe Zhao, Vivian Qu, Paul Dano, Hong Sang Soo and more. With a slate that combined a number of excellent international art films, as well as a wide array of locally renowned films and lesser-known flicks from the Shanxi region, the festival had a bit of everything for film buffs, including some key announcements from Jia Zhangke himself. 

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Image by Matthew Bossons/That’s

Jia Zhangke Teams With Momo

Probably the biggest story to come out of the festival this year was the announcement by Jia of a number of new projects. Chief among them was the announcement that the renowned arthouse director will be executive producer on Momo Pictures/Fabula Entertainment feature The Best is Yet To Come. As is the case with many tech companies, Momo has increasingly been trying to move away from being known simply as a social dating app, having sponsored PYIFF since its inception in 2017. Jia will also be acting in Cheng Er-led Pseudo Realist, trailers for which see the Ash is Purest White director discussing Descartes. Finally, his documentary So Close to My Land, which brings together intellectuals to discuss the changes in Chinese life through the PRC’s 70 years. Trailers for all of these projects were beamed out at audience members throughout the festival. 

Award Nominee on Show

Asia Pacific Award Nominees were announced during the festival, with just one of the attendees, Pema Tseden’s Balloon, in among the prestigious list of names up for awards at this year’s ceremony. Tseden himself is nominated in the Best Screenplay category, while Balloon is up for Best Feature Film, alongside Wang Xiaoshuai’s So Long, My Son, Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite, Ridham Janve’s The Gold-Laden Sheep And The Sacred Mountain and Kantemir Balagov’s Beanpole

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'Balloon.' Image via Factory Gate Films/IMDb

Indian Cinema Presence

2019’s retrospective section focused on films from Indian New Cinema genres, spanning from 1957-1978. Twelve films, from directors like Shyam Benegal, Ritwik Ghatak and Mani Kaul, shone a light on the golden age of Indian cinema. Elsewhere, Tushar Hiranandani-led Saand Ki Aankh (Bull’s Eye) was showed as part of Pingyao Night. Special Jury Award winner at the 2018 Indian National Film Awards, Eeb Allay Ooo! was on show, and Neighbors, produced by Jia Zhangke himself, takes place across China, Russia, Brazil, South Africa and India. 

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Saand Ki Aankh (Bull’s Eye). Image via Reliance Entertainment/IMDb

International Film Presence

One of this year’s most hyped films, Mati Diop’s Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix prize winner, Atlantics, appeared during the festival. The dramatic tale of love and horror on the Atlantic coast of Senegal was well received by fans at the festival. The Grudge director, Takashi Shimizu, brought his latest, Howling Village, which tells the tale of a cursed village at the end of a tunnel forgotten by time, while other notable flicks like 5 Is the Perfect Number by Igor Tuveri, Particles by Blaise Harrison and Babyteeth by Shannon Murphy also made appearances. 

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'Atlantics.' Image via Douban

Made in Shanxi

Focusing on directors, films and production companies that are based in Shanxi, this section of the festival featured five different films in 2019. We caught Father, Father, which tells the story of a migrant farmer who adopts his neighbor’s child when her mother dies and her father is imprisoned. Combining a dramatic plotline with some outrageous musical elements, this film was entertaining to say the least. 

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'The Opera House.' Image via Douban

No Canceled Movies

While a few other China-based film festivals had to deal with last-minute cancelations of their closing films, such as The Eight Hundred at Shanghai International Film Festival and Bong Jong Hoo's Palme D’or winning Parasite at First International Film Festival, PYIFF got away without any such troubles, as Hong Kong director Jacob Cheung’s The Opera House went off without a hitch. The film tells the story of the son of a martial artist, conflicted over his future because of his passion for Peking Opera. 

READ MORE: First Film Festival Is Giving China's Arthouse Cinema a Platform to Shine

[Cover image by Matthew Bossons/That’s]

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