- "Love Your Films and Love Your Life:"An Interview with Fan Popo
Invited by the Institute for Screen Industries Research, the University of Nottingham, Chinese queer filmmaker and activist Fan Popo visited Nottingham in February 2018 for a series of events titled "Queer Cinema as Art, Activism and Industry," including research workshops, student seminars, and film screenings.1 Bao Hongwei, assistant professor in media studies, interviewed Fan about his filmmaking career and his participation in transnational screen industries. This interview focuses on the status quo of queer independent filmmaking in a transnational context, with an emphasis on the opportunities and challenges that creative professionals face in increasingly commercialized and competitive work environments.
Fan Popo is an independent filmmaker and queer activist from Beijing. He studied screenwriting at the Beijing Film Academy. After his graduation [End Page 799]
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in 2007 he became a leading figure in China's queer filmmaking and activist communities. His documentaries on LGBTQ and gender issues have been screened at film festivals around the world. Fan is the author of Happy Together: A Complete Record of a Hundred Queer Films. He is also an organizer of the Beijing Queer Film Festival and the China Queer Film Festival Tour. In 2015, he sued China's censorship authority, the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television for banning his film Mama Rainbow from online video-streaming platforms, and this became a landmark event for China's queer activism. Fan's films include New Beijing New Marriage, Be a Woman, Chinese Closet, Mama Rainbow, The VaChina Monologues, and Papa Rainbow. Fan is currently based in Berlin, writing scripts and making new films.
Queer Cinema as Industry
Popo, welcome to the University of Nottingham. I'd like to ask you a few questions about your films and your engagement with screen industries. This series of events at Nottingham is titled "Queer Cinema as Art, Activism [End Page 800] and Industry." What is your view on queer cinema? Where do you see your films in this context?
Queer cinema has always been associated with art and activism, but whether it constitutes an industry is always a question to me. If we understand the term industry in a broad sense, then I see queer cinema as an alternative industry or sometimes even an anti-industry.
People usually associate the term industry with commercial productions. However, most queer films in the PRC do not fit into this model. How do you describe queer films in relation to the mainstream screen industry?
Queer films outside China, especially in Europe and North America, are quite big industries: they can produce films with a big budget and use more professional actors; they also go to big film festivals. Chinese queer films are definitely not in the mainstream industry. Because of media censorship in China, we are not able to show films related to queer topics in commercial cinemas. But we have our own ways of screening films and communicating with audiences. These include online screenings and collaborations with local LGBT NGOs and small independent film groups. This can create some social impact, but individual filmmakers do not really benefit much from those screenings financially. It is therefore hard to say whether this kind of alternative screen industry is an industry or not.
It is very difficult for independent filmmakers in China to make money from their films. How do these filmmakers survive? How do you fund your films?
I get some of my funding from nongovernment organizations or different foundations. Some of them are based overseas. I also make some films through crowdfunding. My latest documentary Papa Rainbow successfully made use of crowdfunding. I not only got some money to make the film; crowdfunding also helped to publicize the film. The amount we got was small and it could only cover some basic costs though. I barely make any money from making films, so I have to do some part-time jobs to make a living.