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Eternity in Lanzhou

Alex Galvin’s sophomore feature Eternity recently screened in competition in China’s major awards event, the Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival. He reflects on the experience.

The Golden Rooster & Hundred Flowers awards ceremony.

The Golden Rooster & Hundred Flowers awards ceremony.

Last week I attended the 23rd Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival in Lanzhou, capital of southwest China’s Gansu Province. These are China’s most prestigious film awards and are held in a different city each year. Cities have to bid for the hosting rights, and it is seen as a major opportunity to promote their city to the rest of China.

These awards are the result of merging two different awards in China. The Golden Rooster Awards, which began in 1982 and the People’s Hundred Flowers Award which began in 1962. In 1992, the awards were merged into one. However, the statuette given out each year alternates between a Golden Rooster and one in the shape of a goddess of flowers. This year was the goddess.

Directors

(l to r) Polish director Marcin Solarz, Italian producer Edoardo Gagliardi, Alex Galvin and UK Director’s Guild President Ivor Benjamin

The festival lasts five days, beginning with a grand opening ceremony, then four days screening Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwanese films, international films, forums on Chinese films and science, and finally the awards ceremony.

Both the opening and closing ceremonies are screened on national television. These awards are absolutely huge in China and are also broadcast throughout Asia into Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan. Outside of Asia, very little is known about them and it can be difficult to find any English-language information about them.

They are very self-contained, much like most of China’s film industry. However, just like Bollywood, with a self-contained fan base of well over a billion people, Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers remains one of the largest film events in the world!

The organisers of the festival are making a concerted effort to give the awards a more international presence and so for the last few years have included a Best Foreign Film Category. This is what my film Eternity was chosen for and why I was in attendance. In recent years Roseanne Liang’s My Wedding & Other Secrets and Paul Murphy’s Love Birds have also played the festival.

Eternity had previously screened in China at the 2013 Shanghai International Film Festival and also screened as part of the New Zealand Film Festival in China, with screenings in Shanghai, Beijing and Guilin. It was at the screening in Beijing that one of the Golden Roosters judges saw Eternity and recommended it be considered for Best International Film.

The other international films in competition were from Denmark, Norway, England, the USA, Ecuador, Italy and Poland. All of these films had representatives there and we were all part of the international delegation.

Jim He and Alex Galvin

Jim He helps Alex Galvin present Eternity to a packed house

The other New Zealander in attendance was Jim He, who runs the New Zealand Film Festival in China and has been a brilliant supporter of all New Zealand films having a presence in China. Jim helped arrange my trip to Lanzhou and without his help and support I would not have been able to attend.

Eternity had a number of private screenings for the judges to view it, and then had two sold out screenings on the last day of the festival. I did introductions and Q&As at both screenings and was also presented with some giant wheat – apparently signifying good luck for the box office. Something every New Zealand film can use!

On the Closing Night awards, all the winners were announced. This was all very much like the Oscars with all the glitz and glamour and major Chinese stars flying in for the big night.

The winning foreign film was Thomas Vinterberg’s brilliant Danish film, Oscar nominee The Hunt, which screened at last year’s New Zealand Film Festival. However, the foreign award was given very little coverage on closing night, as that event is very much for the Chinese films.

The 10 films nominated for Best Chinese Film were chosen by 100 cinema managers after reviewing more than 100 films which premiered between March 2012 and February 2014. Then on the final night, a panel made up of 101 judges, cast their final votes live at the awards ceremony.

The big winner on the night was The Grand Master, and having star director Wong Kar-Wai and leading lady Zhang Ziyi in attendance was enough to have all of Lanzhou buzzing. This film cleaned up in nearly every award category, as it has at several other Asian awards events over the last year.

Alex Galvin

Alex Galvin and some very impressive wheat

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my first “Chinese Oscars” experience. The scale of events here is so much larger than anything in New Zealand and really has to be seen to be believed. Eternity was again very well received in China. It’s always extremely gratifying to see one’s film enjoyed so far away from home and by such a different audience.

It was also a wonderful festival for making international contacts from all over the world. I very much hope to attend again in future and thoroughly recommend anyone else to attend in future if they get the opportunity.

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