Sheffield Doc/Fest seems to have found itself in the middle of a political argument as the Chinese embassy in the UK has demanded at very the last minute that Sheffield Doc/Fest removed the documentaries High Tech, Low Life and Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry from its programme.The festival refused, causing the embassy to pull its delegation from the festival.
The Sheffield Doc/Fest first announced that a ten strong Chinese delegation was to visit the festival at the press launch in May, saying it was the first time filmmakers and decision makers would be able to get better access to the Chinese market.
However, at the very last minute the Chinese embassy alledgedly demanded the festival’s organisation pulled two films regarding the right to freedom of speech and open access media or else it would pull out. The festival, led by director Heather Croall, said they would continue to support the filmmakers.
One of the documentary’s subjects, the renowned artist Ai Weiwei, has been the centre of political controversy before, after he was given house arrest and was subsequently jailed, for speaking out against the Chinese communist regime. In the documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, which has its European premiere at the festival, director Alison Klayman takes us deep inside Ai’s world where he shows us how difficult but also beautiful his life sometimes is.
The other film the Chinese protested against is entitled High Tech, Low Life by director Steve Maing and deals with the upsurge of citizen journalists in China who are defeating the system when it comes to an information ban and their right to freedom of speech. It is also the first time Maing’s film will be screening in Europe.
BBC Storyville editor, who broke the news in one of the festival’s sessions yesterday, has taken over the slot of the Chinese delegates today and will talk about his new publication ‘Why Documentaries Matter’, which was published for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.