Controversy as Portuguese short Red Dawn banned in China (UPDATE)
by Laurence Boyce
- The short film, due to be shown as part of the Where Is China? exhibition in Beijing, was pulled one hour before opening
UPDATE (9 June 2014): Since the publication of this article, a translation of the fax sent to Jose Drummond - one of the curators of the exhibition - by the China International Culture Association has been received. It reads: "We hereby express our attitude and offer our suggestion towards the work Red Dawn by artists João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata, which participated in the Chinese-Portuguese contemporary art exhibition. The work would likely arouse unpleasant feelings and negative emotions from Chinese audiences. In order to improve the exhibition to be more likeable and favourable for Chinese audiences, we would like the work to be removed. Thanks for your understanding and coordination. China International Culture Association, 30 May 2014."
Agência, the Portuguese Short Film Agency, has reacted with dismay after Red Dawn – a 2011 short film directed by João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata – was pulled from the Where is China? exhibition, which opened recently in Beijing. According to Agência, the film was pulled one hour before the opening of the event, which was attended by Portuguese President Aníbal Cavaco Silva, and copies of the catalogue were then confiscated.
Speaking to Cineuropa, Agência’s Salette Ramalho said: “Red Dawn is a poetic and visually stunning documentary, mostly observational, that captures the reality of the rituals involved in preparing animals for consumption in Macao’s famous Red Market. No reason has been given so far by the Chinese authorities for the banning of this work. The Agência would like to express its solidarity with the filmmakers and regrets the diplomatic inertia seen at the event, which saw the presence of the President of the Portuguese Republic and which received its official sponsorship.”
Luis Alegre, one of the curators of the event, also told Cineuropa: “Censorship and the effects caused on whatever target is always something that I, personally and professionally, absolutely repudiate. The curators of the exhibition – of which I am one of the three responsible – always knew from the beginning of the realisation of the project that China is a country with an institutionalised system of censorship.
“The question ‘Where is China?’ incorporates a purposely provocative and revealing rhetorical device concerning the effects and contradictions of the current globalising expansion of China.
“The relevance of this exhibition also has to do with the full awareness of the importance of images in the modern world. Any system aimed at concealing images inevitably generates a multitude of effects and consequences because we know that without images, we run a serious risk of becoming vulnerable to ‘forces’ that erupt everywhere, destroying everything they come across.
“Unfortunately, these ‘forces’ acted upon two of the 27 works exhibited in Beijing. The effects of this were felt by everyone – not just the artists, but also the target audience in China, who could not see the images.”
João Pedro Rodrigues told us: “When we make a film, we want it to be seen by the highest number of people possible, and this could have been a great opportunity to show our work in Beijing, in a dialogue involving the work of Chinese and Portuguese artists. We knew that our film would have to be approved by one or several censorship commissions. But as Red Dawn was shot in Macao, which is Chinese territory, with the support of Macao's Cultural Institute, and being a documentary portrait of a day in Macao's most emblematic produce market, we never thought that we would have censorship problems. We were not in Beijing, and we are still waiting for an explanation by the Chinese authorities for this absurd and unacceptable situation.
“Just as unacceptable is the fact that the Portuguese President didn't say anything at the time and that the Presidential Press Office denied, one week later in Lisbon, that the President knew what had happened.”
When approached for comment, the Presidential Office in Portugal told Cineuropa: “When asked by a journalist, the Presidential Office stated that the President had agreed to attend the opening of the exhibition in Beijing – organised by a group of artists through a joint venture involving Portuguese and Chinese cultural institutions – and was never informed (before, during or after the ceremony) of such facts as were described in a printed newspaper story more than two weeks after the event. The President himself was never asked to speak out about this subject, and the Presidential Office has no further comments on it.”