Busy Shanghai Film Festival Signals Strong Post-Pandemic Rebound

In 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF) cancelled its physical red carpet events and pivoted to a combination of offline and online activities. But just a year later, SIFF has rolled out the red carpet again, welcoming the world back in person and showing how quickly cinema is bouncing back.

Boding well for recovery of the Chinese film industry (and the global film industry at large), audiences returned in full force to the festival, one of the most important cinema events in Asia. The 24th annual edition and its robust slate of features has created a soaring demand for tickets, drawing attendees not only in Shanghai but also to theaters in neighboring cities for the first time in the event’s history.

This year’s structure, which meshes in-person screenings with a mix of online and in-person market sections, was devised by the festival’s organizers to allow for the resumption of in-person gatherings while strictly adhering to national and local safety protocols.

Since opening June 11 with attendees on the red carpet including directors Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Tsui Hark, Donnie Yen and Guan Hu, writer-director Diao Yinan, and actor Zhou Dongyu, SIFF has held in-person premieres, as well as its popular master class series with guests such as director Apichatpong Weerasethakul and director Yen, renowned for his martial arts films. The 2021 festival closes June 19 with the live presentation of its top prizes, the Golden Goblet Awards, which resume after being omitted from last year’s stripped-down festivities.

Thirteen films will vie for the Golden Goblet in the festival’s main competition, including a pair of long-awaited features from celebrated filmmakers: “Barbarian Invasion,” the first new feature from Malaysian director Tan Chui Mui since 2010’s “Year Without a Summer” and “The Contrary Route,” the first new film from Iranian director Abolfazl Jalili since “Hafez” in 2007. The main competition also features three Chinese films: Dai Wei’s “The Chanting Willows,” Wu Di’s “The Grace Ends” and Geng Jun’s “Manchurian Tiger.”

Earlier this month, organizers noted that in spite of the pandemic-caused production slowdown, submissions had surpassed those received for both the 2019 in-person festival and last year’s hybrid online/offline edition. For 2021, SIFF received a record-high 4,443 submissions from 113 countries and regions, exceeding last year’s submissions by 750 and 2019’s by 479.

In SIFF’s Film Panorama section, which showcases international features, this year’s program brought 405 films from 62 countries and regions to 40 theaters across Shanghai. Of those features, 73 were world premieres, 42 were international premieres, 89 were premieres in Asia and 99 were premieres in China.

For the first time in the festival’s history, organizers also selected six films from Film Panorama to screen in Hangzhou, Ningbo, Nanjing, Suzhou and Hefei, located in the neighboring Yangtze River Delta. The decision to bring the festival into these cities is part of the Belt and Road Film Festival Alliance, launched by SIFF in 2018 with the aim of boosting film production in the region.

To break down physical barriers for exhibition, negotiation and transactions, this year the festival has also expanded its International Film & TV Cloud-Based Market. The market’s new offerings include the ability to negotiate and exhibit films within the virtual platform.

SIFF has also seen nearly 170 registered exhibitors in this year’s Shanghai Television Festival Market; nearly 200 registered exhibitors in the Shanghai Film Festival Market; and more than 400 registered exhibitors in International Film & TV Online Market. In total, there are 750 exhibitors attending this year’s markets, surpassing the nearly 600 exhibitors from the 2019 festival.

During the festival’s opening weekend, organizers also touched on plans for the newly launched SIFF Young program, an effort they announced earlier this spring in partnership with the Cannes Film Festival’s Marché du Film. “In addition to promoting Chinese films to overseas market, the project will also allow overseas industries to reach the increasingly important Chinese film market,” noted Tong Ying, deputy director of the Shanghai International Film & TV Festival Center.

During Cannes this July, five directors selected as part of the first SIFF Young program will be highlighted during the opening night of the Marché du Film via promotional campaign videos, noted Jerome Paillard, executive director of the Marché du Film. “I hope these young Chinese filmmakers connect to the international film market, even from afar, through this presentation in Cannes,” he added.

See below for the complete list of projects nominated for the 2021 Shanghai International Film Festival’s Golden Goblet awards, which will be handed out during the award ceremony. The competition’s jury is made up of Chinese filmmaker Huang Jianxin; Chinese director and actor Deng Chao; Singapore filmmaker Anthony Chen; French producer Natacha Devillers; Chinese actress Zhou Dongyu; Belgian cinematographer Matthias Delvaux; and former Venice and Locarno festival chief Marco Mueller.


Main Competition


“Amateurs,” Iwona Siekierzynska (Poland)


“Barbarian Invasion,”  Tan Chui Mui (Malaysia)


“The Chanting Willows,” Dai Wei (China)


“The Conscience,” Alexey Viktorovich Kozlov (Russia)


“The Contrary Route,” Abolfazl Jalili (Iran)


“The Father Who Moves Mountains,” Daniel Sandu (Romania)


“Future Is a Lonely Place,” Martin Hawie/Laura Harwarth (Germany)


“The Grace Ends,” Wu Di (China)


“Manchurian Tiger,” Geng Jun (China)


“Neighbours,” Mano Khalil (Switzerland)


“Pure White,” Necip Caghan Ozdemir (Turkey)


“Since August,” Diana Zuros (U.S.)


“To Feel,” Vitaliy Saltykov (Russia)


Animation Films


“Even Mice Belong in Heaven,” Denisa Grimmova/Jan Bubenicek (Czech Republic/France/Poland)


“Gulliver Returns,” Ilya Maksimov (Ukraine)


“New Happy Dad and Son: Perfect Dad,” He Cheng/Liu Kexin (China)


“Realm of Terracotta,” Lin Yongchang (China)


“Tarsilinha,” Celia Catunda/Kiko Mistrorigo (Brazil)


Documentary Films


“All In,” Zhou Hao (China)


“Fort Apache,” Ilaria Galanti/Simone Spampinato (Italy)


“Kodokushi,” Ensar Altay (Turkey)


“Mayor, Shepherd, Widow, Dragon,” Eliza Petkova (Germany)


“Sisyphus,” Santiago Mohar Volkow/Nicolas Gutierrez Wenhammar (Mexico)


Live-Action Short Films


“A Firecracker Story,” Hao Zhizi (China/U.K.)


“A Little Circus,” Yoshiro Osaka (Japan)


“The Bond,” Yolanda Centeno (Spain)


“The Coming of Spring,” Yang Ji/Jiang Yixiao (China)


“Devek,” Uriya Hertz (Israel)


“Double Helix,” Qiu Sheng (China)


“The Longest Night of the Summer,” Leila Jordi (Hungary)


“The Season When I Became a Man,” Duman Birleskhan (China)


“What We Don’t Know About Mariam,” Morad Mostafa (Egypt)


“Zarnitsa,” Alena Shevchenko (Russia)


Animated Short Films


“Alba,” Elva Arrieta Tabuzo (Peru)


“Mild Madness, Lasting Lunacy,” Marine Laclotte (France)


“Statues Game,” Hong Xiao (China)


“To the Last Drop,” Simon Schnellmann (Germany)


“Unnecessary Things,” Dmytro Lisenbart (Ukraine)

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