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Taboo Topics in China Shown on the Big Screen in the U.S.

Stories considered off limits in China, including LGBT and environmental issues, are showcased on the big screen in a U.S. film festival.
Esther Eng, the director whose story is documented in Golden Gate Girls, c 1938
Esther Eng, the director whose story is documented in the film "Golden Gate Girls," c 1938.Courtesy of DCCFF, DC Chinese Film Festival

The DC Chinese Film Festival (DCCFF) completed its second year in Washington, D.C. with a four-day program of contemporary Chinese cinema, including 69 feature-length and short films selected from 329 entries from 29 countries and regions.

Festival Director Geoffrey Cai said in the program that the all-volunteer film festival sought “To discover new talents in Chinese film and provide for them a stage to perform; to facilitate the communication between Chinese and international filmmakers; to show the DC communities a different and unique side of China.”

The films featured a wide range of genres —narrative, documentary, animated, experimental, student-made, and cellphone micro-films —as well as topics, languages, and even regional dialects.

Most notably, the festival featured a series of Spotlight Screenings and panel discussions with filmmakers and scholars that provided a safe space for topics considered out of bounds in China, including Exploring Gay China On and Off Screen, Environmental filmmaking in China, Women Filmmakers, and Independent Filmmaking.

Golden Gate Girl opened the festival—a documentary feature on the life of Esther Eng, Hong Kong’s first “directress,” who, from 1943-1949, was the only woman directing feature-length films in America, who also happened to be Chinese American, born in San Francisco, and an open lesbian. (Check out baby Bruce Lee’s first film role in the trailer below at the 1:44 mark).