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September 27, 2017

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In possible anti-censorship move, China film guild to forego award for best film

BEIJING -- A major Chinese directors' association declined to name a best picture or best director at its annual awards ceremony, an unprecedented move that triggered debate over whether it was intended as a protest against censorship.

Feng Xiaogang, a prominent filmmaker who chaired the nine-member jury for the China Film Directors' Guild Awards, announced the panel's unanimous decision on live television Wednesday night.

The awards "should not be about our own enjoyment and satisfaction," Feng said at the ceremony, according to multiple reports in Chinese-language media.

"What Chinese cinema needs isn't comfort," he added. "Rather, it should set a standard that everyone must strive for, which they can only attain by standing on tiptoe and reaching with all their might."

Feng, one of China's most commercially successful directors, focused his remarks on the state of the Chinese film industry and did not criticize Communist Party authorities.

But the panel's move was interpreted by some as a protest against Beijing's decision last year to block the release of "A Touch of Sin," a film by acclaimed director Jia Zhangke.

"It's a political act, a very strong gesture," one western Chinese cinema expert told AFP.

The expert, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the topic, also noted that Feng has previously taken a public stand against censorship.

Jia's film, which comments on violence and social inequality in China, was awarded Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival last spring but has yet to be screened in his homeland despite a promised November 2013 release.

Authorities maintain a tight grip on political speech and frequently block or delay the release of films deemed to touch on sensitive issues.

Another movie by an acclaimed Chinese director, Diao Yinan's "Black Coal, Thin Ice," was virtually unknown to Chinese audiences when it won the Berlin Festival's Golden Bear award in February.

The film, which tells the tale of a washed-up ex-cop investigating a series of grisly murders, was finally released in China in March after months of uncertainty.

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