Chinese film on 1960 labor camps cheered in Venice

Mon Sep 6, 2010 9:19am EDT
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By Silvia Aloisi

VENICE (Reuters) - A powerful Chinese film on the plight of political prisoners condemned to forced labor camps in the late 1950s wooed critics in Venice on Monday, with some tipping it as a strong contender for the festival's top prize.

"The Ditch" tells the little-known story of some 3,000 people deported for "re-education" to labor camps on the edge of the Gobi desert, in western China, and struggling to survive extreme climate and acute food shortages.

Billed as right-wing enemies by the government for even mildly criticizing the Communist party or simply because of their background, many died of starvation, disease and exhaustion in the ditches that served as dormitories.

Director Wang Bing spent three years tracking down survivors and wardens of the Jiabiangou and Mingshui Camps for the film, a surprise entry in the main competition line-up that was only revealed on Monday.

"For 10, maybe 20 years, independent Chinese cinema has focused above all else on the social problems of the poorest working classes in contemporary China," Bing says in the production notes.

"The Ditch is perhaps the first film to deal directly with contemporary China's political past, talking as it does about the 'Rightists' and what they endured in the re-education camps. It's still a taboo subject."

The film, warmly applauded at a press screening, is unlikely to be released in its home country, where authorities remain sensitive about how such topics are portrayed.

Still, Bing said he hoped the film would be an opportunity for younger Chinese like him -- he was born in 1967 -- to learn about their country's past.   Continued...

<p>Wang Bing, the director of the in-competition film "Le Fosse", or "The Ditch", poses during a photo call at the 67th Venice Film Festival September 6, 2010. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi</p>