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Richmond partners with Beijing during the China-America Festival of Film and Culture.

Though not yet a recurring fixture, like Virginia Commonwealth University's French Film Festival in the spring, the newly minted CAFFC (also sponsored by VCU as well as the University of Richmond, the Virginia Film Office and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities) is a remarkable achievement. It brings some top Chinese filmmakers and their films to Richmond for a five-day series of screenings, lectures and, on the closing Sunday, a food tasting.

There are several films featured in the festival. "Together" (2002) is Chen Kaige's based-on-truth story about a young violinist from the country who comes of age in Beijing. Kaige is no stranger to the United States, having previously made the Joseph Fiennes/Heather Graham erotic thriller "Killing Me Softly." Kaige, one of the leading members of China's fifth generation of filmmakers, is most well-known for helping to put the contemporary Chinese film industry on the map with "Yellow Earth" (1984) and "Farewell My Concubine" (1993).

"Cell Phone," by Feng Xiaogang, concerns wives who pry into the messages and call logs of their husbands' cell phones to check for and deter cheating. Feng, though not on the international stage like Kaige, is well-known in the East. He also played the Crocodile Gang Boss in the recent martial arts farce "Kung Fu Hustle."

CAFFC also promises much in addition to film screenings. Highlights include lectures on Chinese art by the Hon. Sally Yu Leung, commissioner of San Francisco's Asian Art Museum, and on video art in China by Shulin Zhao, director and curator of the Contemporary Art Center and Today Art Museum in Beijing, as well as a performance of Chinese songs by the Greater Richmond Children's Choir.

Oddly enough, Chen got the idea for the festival, she says, from the events of 9/11 in New York and Washington, D.C., but the roots of those feelings go back much further. Chen was born and raised in Taiwan. After receiving her bachelor's degree in agricultural chemistry from National Taiwan University in 1971, she left her homeland for graduate school in the United States. She became a naturalized citizen when she moved to Richmond around 1980, and she graduated from Leadership Metro Richmond in the class of 1998. Chen has served on many boards, including the Maymont Foundation, the Arts Council of Richmond and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Multicultural Advisory Council, just to name a few.

Without this background, Chen says, she would never have been able to take on this festival. Her work with other arts organizations also seems to have strengthened her sense of duty, or at least given it an outlet. "September 11 was so devastating for me," Chen says, who calls the day "in part an accumulation of misunderstanding." We need to bridge that misunderstanding, she says, and the way to get to know the United States, she feels, is through its media, Hollywood and television especially. To that end, she wants this event to promote relations between China and the United States. She calls film an "entry point" in relations between the old superpower and the new one.

Chen agrees that increased relations between this country and the historically guarded Red state are inevitable. The only question is how amicable they are. The United States recently blocked China from buying the Unicol Corp., a move some experts deride as xenophobic and unwarranted, a setback to America's position in the world economy with regard to our more hostile competitors for China's business. Interaction based on mutual understanding is preferred, Chen says, and she hopes the festival will at least help "encourage filmmakers and audience members to think cross-culturally."

Chen started earlier this year in China. CAFFC is the second component of a two-part series that began when she took two American filmmakers and a number of American films to Beijing in an exchange between the journalism schools at Columbia University and Tsinghua University in Beijing. The event had the distinction, Chen notes, of being the first campus exchange of 35mm film prints between China and America.

Given China's influential and growing position in world affairs, especially business, it's understandable that Chen's festival has created a great deal of interest. "We have other colleges knocking at our door wanting to be part of this," she says. "It's very hard [to do everything and include everyone] the first year because it's never been done before." There's always year two, a possibility Chen acknowledges. With billions of people to bridge, this could be the start of a long and beautiful friendship. S



China-America Festival of Film and Culture (CAFFC) runs Oct. 5-9 at various locations. For a full schedule, go to www.therosegroup.org.
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