The Dangerous World Of Independent Film In China

An interview with Zhang Xianmin, founder of one of the many independent cultural events that were banned last year by the Chinese government.

Action scene in Guangzhou
Action scene in Guangzhou
Isabelle Regnier

NANJING - Filmmaker and producer, Zhang Xianmin is the founder of China’s Independent Film Festival (CIFF), held every year in Nanjing since 2003.

In 2012, all independent film festivals in China were cancelled, including the CIFF. Zhang Xianmin talks to Le Monde about these testing times for independent cinema in China.

LE MONDE: Why was there no CIFF this year?
ZHANG XIANMIN: It was held, but in its most basic form. We printed a catalogue. Jury members decided to watch the films on a television, and hand out awards. We put the photos of our mini-ceremony online, on our website.

What happened exactly?
We were the target of a coordinated action: a dozen administrations were involved, including the police, the department of cultural affairs, the department of propaganda. And at all levels: the central government, provincial, city and neighborhood. Police stepped up to invite us for tea (interrogations for deterrent purposes), creating a climate of intense fear. Nobody escaped: all our employees, our partners, sponsors, universities which hold forums, journalists…”

Are you used to this kind of harassment?
We have always been closely monitored. But this is the first time that screenings were cancelled. There has been a return to what I call “collective punishment,” which had completely disappeared in the fields of film and culture. For the past ten or 12 years, with “invitations to tea,” the harassment targeted specific individuals, for specific periods.

Did any other events suffer the same fate as your festival?
In November 2012, Get it Louder Beijing, a contemporary art exhibition featuring art, design, film and music was interrupted, a victim of the same kind of procedure. A joint taskforce comprising of three or four administrations showed up and forced everyone out. A few days later, the exhibition was reopened but certain events were cancelled by the authorities.

Photo: Jonathan Kos-Read

How do you explain this relentless fight against culture?
It seems that the administration is trying to prevent collective group gatherings. They might be worried about the content of certain films, but what really scares them, are the collective gatherings, not the films.

How do you envision the future of the CIFF in Nanjing?
I won’t be involved. It would be both dangerous for me and for the festival. I hope to be able to work on two itinerant mini-festivals. One of them will be held in cafes and libraries. We are trying to build up an audience on the Internet. They have already called us on the phone, to deter us from doing this. The other mini-festival will be held in art centers. Screenings will be organized simultaneously in 16 cities. They also tried to warn me off this, to make me understand that organizing such events was dangerous.

Do you think that the repression will stop soon?
Even if it stops, the damage is already enormous. Our lives are in tatters.

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How Facebook's Metaverse Could Undermine Europe's Tech Industry

Mark Zuckerberg boasted that his U.S. tech giant will begin a hiring spree in Europe to build his massive "Metaverse." Touted as an opportunity for Europe, the plans could poach precious tech talent from European tech companies.

Carl-Johan Karlsson

PARIS — Facebook's decision to recruit 10,000 people across the European Union might be branded as a vote of confidence in the strength of Europe's tech industry. But some European companies, which are already struggling to fill highly-skilled roles such as software developers and data scientists, are worried that the tech giant might make it even harder to find the workers that power their businesses.

Facebook's new European staff will work as part of its so-called "metaverse," the company's ambitious plan to venture beyond its current core business of connected social apps.

Shortage of French developers

Since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his more maximalist vision of Facebook in July, the concept of the metaverse has quickly become a buzzword in technology and business circles. Essentially a sci-fi inspired augmented reality world, the metaverse will allow people to interact through hardware like augmented reality (AR) glasses that Zuckerberg believes will eventually be as ubiquitous as smartphones.

The ambition to build what promoters claim will be the successor to the mobile internet comes with a significant investment, including multiplying the 10% of the company's 60,000-strong workforce currently based in Europe. The move has been welcomed by some as a potential booster for the continent's tech market.

Eight out of 10 French software companies say they can't find enough workers.

"In a number of regions in Europe there are clusters of pioneering technology companies. A stronger representation of Facebook can support this trend," German business daily Handelsblatt notes.

And yet the enthusiasm isn't shared by everyone. In France, company leaders worry that Facebook's five-year recruiting plan will dilute an already limited talent pool, with eight out of 10 French software companies already having difficulties finding staff, daily Les Echos reports.

The profile of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg displayed on a smartphone

Cris Faga / ZUMA

Teleworking changes the math

There is currently a shortage of nearly 10,000 computer engineers in France, with developers being the most sought-after, according to a recent study by Numéum, the main employers' consortium of the country's digital sector.

Facebook has said its recruiters will target nations including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and Ireland, without mentioning specific numbers in any country. But the French software sector, which has so far managed to retain 59% of its workforce, fears that its highly skilled and relatively affordable young talent will be fertile recruiting grounds — especially since the pandemic has ushered in a new era of teleworking.

Facebook's plan to build its metaverse comes at a time when the nearly $1-trillion company faces its biggest scandal in years over damning internal documents leaked by a whistleblower, as well as mounting antitrust scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators. Still, as the sincerity of Zuckerberg's quest is underscored by news that the pivot might also come with a new company name, European software companies might want to start thinking about how to keep their talent in this universe.

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