Xining, a socioculturally peripheral city in China’s Northwest, is the place to catch the latest Chinese indie films. After all, it is the site of FIRST International Film Festival, the biggest indie film festival in the nation. This year’s edition will run for one week, from July 27 to August 4.
Announced on June 28, the lineup for the 16th edition of the festival includes 19 feature-length productions and 22 shorts that were selected out of 833 submissions.
FIRST, which some have held up as China’s answer to Sundance Film Festival, is famed for promoting rising filmmakers, and this year is no exception. According to a press release from organizers, 83% of the features selected for the 2022 screenings are directorial debuts. Furthermore, 54.8% of the directors were born in the 1990s, and 15.5% were born in the 2000s.
Championing amateurism, FIRST has reported that more than half of the respondents of a questionnaire identify as non-professional directors and screenwriters. The announcement also highlights an entry from a 17-year-old filmmaker — the youngest participant this year.
Once a campus film event, the festival has come a long way since 2006. It is now regarded as the primary outpost for new Chinese arthouse and indie films.
Directed by Zhang Dalei in 2016, The Summer is Gone won Best Feature at FIRST before snagging three other awards — including Best Feature Film — at the Golden Horse Awards. Xin Yukun’s 2014 film The Coffin in the Mountain has also gone down in history as an indie film that has met commercial success.
According to FIRST, this year’s documentaries spotlight “public events experienced by socially marginalized groups.”
Previous film selections for FIRST suggest that the festival leans towards specific styles of stories. In addition to championing intimate narratives that speak for a larger societal context, such as urbanization, FIRST also advocates noirs that navigate complex human relationships in contemporary Chinese society, especially if seen through the eyes of outliers.
See the full lineup for the main competition here
All photos are courtesy of the organizer unless otherwise noted