Independent cinema has been at the forefront of socially-engaged filmmaking in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) since its emergence in the 1990s. Marginalised and largely inaccessible domestically, this cinema has nonetheless functioned as a dynamic counterweight to official discourse around art, truth, history, reality and ethics, while simultaneously exploring alternative spaces, places, voices, and images that have been ignored or misrepresented in mainstream Chinese media. An independent exhibition culture, developed since the beginning of the twenty-first century, has further expanded the public space for these films, facilitating the formation of a unique film culture that has attracted critical acclaim and international attention.

The AHRC project “Independent Cinema in China: State, Market and Film Culture” aims to explore how the relationship to the state and the market has shaped Chinese independent cinema in terms of its production, circulation, and reception. We will communicate our research findings to academic audiences via a monograph, an academic conference and subsequent edited anthology, academic journal articles, conference papers and film festival panels. We will also collaborate with industry partners such as Sheffield Doc/Fest, CNEX (China), and independent cinemas in the UK, to raise the visibility of Chinese independent film, and to enhance the world’s understanding of the film industry and film culture in the PRC.

As a major project outcome, the Chinese Independent Film Archive UK (CIFA-UK) will be established at Newcastle University’s Robinson Library to preserve independent films made in the PRC in the past three decades, and their associated material culture. Both the films, and this culture, are in real danger of disappearing. The archive aims not only to safeguard this culture for future generations, but also to act as an alternative record of social change and historical trauma in socialist and post-socialist China—a record not always easily accessible. We will work with scholars and universities to encourage the use of the archive for research on, and the teaching of, contemporary China.

An online database of Chinese independent cinema will be built during the project. This database includes comprehensive information on independent films from the last three decades, a visual and textual record of major Chinese independent film festivals, a catalogue of existing shcolorships on Chinese independent cinema in both English and Chinese, and selected oral history material with leading independent filmmakers and important stakeholders. This publicly-accessible online database will open a window for academic communities and the general public alike to have a glimpse into Chinese independent cinema and exhibition culture. It will also provide invaluable first-hand research sources for the study of Chinese independent cinema and contemporary China.