There’s an old saying that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Although China and anti-Kadeer supporters may argue otherwise.
Sunday saw the final day of the Melbourne International Film Festival and what a festival it was. In the lead up to MIFF, Melbourne was buzzing with news that Quentin Tarantino was coming to town. Who would’ve thought a 62 year old Uyghur grandmother would steal his limelight? And do so convincingly.
The 10 Conditions of Love is a 55 minute documentary by Australian director Jeff Daniels about an extraordinary woman, Rebiya Kadeer. It follows her journey as she campaigns for the rights of the Uyghur people who live in Xinjiang. This previously autonomous region known as East Turkistan by the Uyghur people, was annexed by China in 1949 but unfortunately hasn’t received as much attention as Tibet. Until now.
A week before MIFF, very few people in Australia had heard of Rebiya Kadeer. With hundreds of films screening including Lars von Tries’ controversial Antichrist and Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds… it should have largely gone unnoticed.
But then China stepped in.
The Chinese consulate contacted festival director Richard Moore, after the festival’s program was published in The Age, insisting the documentary The 10 Conditions of Love be withdrawn. The consular official, Ms Chen asked Mr Moore to justify his decision to include the film and chastised him for inviting Ms Kadeer to be a guest of the festival. Her request to remove the film from the program was refused.
Richard Moore also said how he and his staff had been bombarded with abusive emails and threats after he did not pander to Chinese demands. He continues, “The language has been vile, It is obviously a concerted campaign to get us because we’ve refused to comply with the Chinese government’s demands.”
And it didn’t stop there. As if we were in an episode of Spooks, the MIFF website was hijacked and flooded with pro-Chinese slogans, anti-Kadeer sentiment and Chinese Chinese flags blocking bookings. The following week the website was attacked again with all sessions being listed as SOLD OUT. These attacks were found to originate from Chinese portals and IP addresses. Also emails were circulated about how to sabotage the MIFF website. Six Chinese films were pulled from the festival program in protest.
Lord Mayor Robert Doyle was even pulled into the debate with China threatening to end Melbourne’s 29-year sister-city relationship with the city of Tianjin. This could have major economic implications for Victoria however Cr Doyle rejected China’s demands.
And what has been the results of this bullying and demands for censorship?
1. MIFF officials announced at the screening that the past weeks has garnered more international press for the festival than its last 58 years combined.
2. The film’s sessions were both sold out. In fact the 2nd session was so popular, it had to be moved to the Melbourne Town Hall where 1500 people packed in to see the film and the queue extended beyond two city blocks.
3. Channel 7 and Channel 9 sent news crews to the last screenings which further publicised the film on domestic news.
4. Cinema Nova has secured rights to continue to screen the film in Melbourne.
5. It’s sparked interest globally from other film festivals wanting to screen the film.
6. Despite efforts to sabotage the festival, this year’s box office and attendance records have been broken with attendance up to 190,000 according to Innovation Minister Gavin Jennings.
Sometimes it’s better to keep mum then have a public slinging match. From a communications point of view, what can we learn from this?
✖ Don’t get too aggressive, heavy-handed tactics don’t work.
✖ Bullying can’t win you any supporters.
✖ Don’t think that if you refuse to respond, the story will go away. If given the opportunity to address your opponent on film, “no comment” sometimes speaks volumes. Chinese officials declined to participate in the film.
✖ Trying to censor the public, the arts or a cultural festival only adds fuel to the fire.
✖ Don’t try to manipulate the message illegally or falsely. Hacking websites, posting comments under fabricated aliases or lying only ruins your credibility.
✖ Don’t expect coverage of governments and organisations to always be favourable.
✔ Speak to the media. Get your message out there too.
✔ Know your audience. What works in China won’t necessarily work in another country with different values, traditions and culture.
✔ Choose your battles wisely.
✔ Be cooperative.
✔ Be willing to compromise.
✔ Also remember to ask nicely. Being hostile from the start will not help you achieve your outcome.
And what do the c-worders think of China’s bullying tactics? We’re glad it backfired on them. In the words of the beautiful Divine … “you think you’re a man, but you’re only a boy” 😛 OK it was a stretch to link the most awesome-ness of awesome Divine to the censorship friendly Chinese. Polar opposite, in fact. But if we want to dance around the office on Friday afternoon to Divine, well… we can.
Celebrate your weekend folks,
the c word