Q and A: Rikun Zhu on Independent Chinese Cinema

By Grace Bonner, Cinema and Photography '23, March 18, 2021
Rikun Zhu discusses his work with Independent Cinema

Q and A: Rikun Zhu

A director, producer, and founder of Fanhall Films, Rikun Zhu wears many hats in the Independent Film Industry. In the early 2000s, he established and worked with many independent film festivals in China, his home country, before they were shut down by the government. 

Over the past year, he continues to find ways to share Independent Chinese Cinema by using his company, Fanhall, as a platform to virtually screen these films. I was able to speak with him via email to learn more about his work.  

How did you first become interested in independent films?

I began organizing screenings and festivals for independent films in Beijing in 2002 because I wanted to see those films and share them with the public. I was involved with independent film production and distribution in the same year for the same reason. 

Independent films are important to me because it’s the pursuit of the true and artistic world of our reality. I also made my own films as a director beginning in 2012. My first documentary film is “The Questioning” which was finished in 2013, and my latest film is “Anni”. 

I like my position in the field of indie films because I love cinema. I enjoy my jobs as a film curator, producer, and distributor, as well as a film director.

Your company, Fanhall Films, has done online screenings of Independent Chinese Cinema over this past year. Film Festivals are beginning to move virtually as well. How is the move to a virtual platform positively or negatively impacting the independent film community?

All of the independent film festivals in China were canceled a few years ago, because of political pressure or managerial reason. It is extremely difficult for independent film festivals to survive in China.

Online streaming is an alternative for Chinese independent films to reach an audience. I regard it as a good option in this difficult environment. It is out of the control of the regime and can be a free way for the discussion as well. 

I think more and more filmmakers favor this method. We didn’t have a good public system to show independent films in China even without the pandemic. All of the independent film screenings and festivals were run in an underground way, or so-called in the grey areas. 

I welcome the virtual screenings and I hope people take advantage of it for Chinese independent films.

One of the main programs at FLEFF this year is a retrospective of some of Dayong Zhao’s films. What drew you towards his work?  

I was among the first people to recognize and show Dayong’s films. Many of his works were selected in my film festivals since 2006. I appreciate his work. 

He moved to New York City a few years ago. The change of life affects his filmmaking. He is still working to adapt to the new environment in the US. 

He shot the footage of “One Says No” a few years ago and he was editing it in NY. I liked the project and helped a bit to encourage him to bring the documentary to the public. 

Few filmmakers work on such a touch topic in China these years. I hope Chinese filmmakers like Dayong still believe in independent filmmaking and continue their jobs even outside of China.

You’re a frequent guest at FLEFF and have shown some of your films here as well, what do you like about this particular festival? 

I am very honored my films were shown at FLEFF and I have attended the screenings and discussion in Ithaca. 

I like the film festival and the people I’ve met here. FLEFF has a very welcoming atmosphere for filmmakers, researchers, and the audience. The attraction is unique and I am always missing my friends there. 

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You can hear Rikun Zhu speak with Director Dayong Zhao about “The High Life” on 3/27 at 7 pm and “One Says No” on  4/11 at 7 pm during the festival