Many attendees of the Shanghai Intl. Film Festival likely know little about the ShanghaiPRIDE Film Festival, the other event in town every June. Unlike the government-sponsored fest, ShanghaiPRIDE operates in a legal gray zone because of its celebration of LGBTQ content, which is frowned upon by Chinese censors.
This year, ShanghaiPRIDE’s nonprofit event ran June 8-16 and showcased more than 60 films, half of them short works, over the course of a packed week to about 80 people per screening. “We are pretty out. The problem is we don’t know just how out we can be,” said organizer Raymond Phung, who explained that though the volunteer-run festival has been allowed to continue into its 11th year relatively unmolested by authorities, there’s always a possibility that circumstances could change without warning.
This year, it opened with the Chinese-Spanish feature “A Dog Barking at the Moon,” directed by Lisa Zi Xiang. But none of its films has gone through China’s draconian and opaque censorship process, which bans LGBTQ content from online platforms and TV but has never issued a clear stance on it for the big screen. “We don’t even apply; we know it will not pass,” Phung said. Instead, the festival works through foreign consulates, in what appears to be a tolerated workaround. “If [authorities] see this as a foreign consulate cultural event, then it shouldn’t be a problem,” Phung said. “If they see it as a public or private screening without censorship,” that’s when you run into trouble.”
The film festival has always been a part of ShanghaiPRIDE’s broader agenda, but started out much smaller, with just a few screenings one evening at a bar, before expanding to four nights and finally its current, week-long form.