Scenes from Wang Bing's anti-communist drama "The Ditch," surprise hit of the Venice Film Festival.

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By Jason Apuzzo. • The surprise hit at the Venice Film Festival right now is a movie by Wang Bing called The Ditch, that apparently takes an unflinching look at the history of political persecution in Communist China. The film has been very warmly received thus far, and is in strong contention to win the festival’s top prize. Here’s a description of the film from Reuters:

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“The Ditch” tells the little-known story of some 3,000 people deported for “re-education” to labor camps on the edge of the Gobi desert, in western China, and struggling to survive extreme climate and acute food shortages. Billed as right-wing enemies by the government for even mildly criticizing the Communist party or simply because of their background, many died of starvation, disease and exhaustion in the ditches that served as dormitories. Director Wang Bing spent three years tracking down survivors and wardens of the Jiabiangou and Mingshui Camps for the film, a surprise entry in the main competition line-up that was only revealed on Monday. ”For 10, maybe 20 years, independent Chinese cinema has focused above all else on the social problems of the poorest working classes in contemporary China,” Bing says in the production notes. ”The Ditch is perhaps the first film to deal directly with contemporary China’s political past, talking as it does about the ‘Rightists’ and what they endured in the re-education camps. It’s still a taboo subject.”

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Needless to say, the film is unlikely to be released in China itself. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this one. And do I need to say it again? Please go see Mao’s Last Dancer if you haven’t already, because the better that film does, the more likely it is that The Ditch will get North American distribution. They really need a better title, though. [Sigh.]

• In the meantime, state-sponsored Chinese filmmakers are now embarking on the second half of a massive new propaganda film to glorify the history of the Communist Party. I don’t know why they bother funding these things, when 20th Century Fox (Machete, Avatar) would probably be happy to foot the whole bill.

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• The summer movie season is now over, and George Clooney’s The American and Robert Rodriguez’s Machete finished #1-2 at the box office this past weekend, closing the summer on a whimper. We didn’t even bother reviewing The American here, under the assumption that probably very few of you were going to spend your Labor Day Weekend watching Clooney. [Whereas I thought there was some risk of you fanboy-types seeing Machete, as I did.] On balance I think it was a weak summer. The most fun I had this summer was probably watching Piranha 3D - it was one of the few films that felt like a summer movie, although I was quite happy with Salt, as well. The biggest disappoint easily was Clash of the Midgets, which curiously got released under another title. I thought that the debate over Inception was possibly the most interesting event of the summer in terms of what it revealed about film critics. Beyond that, though, there won’t be much of long-term interest to come out of this summer other than the enormous wave of sci-fi projects greenlit in Avatar’s long wake.

• Speaking of Avatar, James Cameron is apparently now going to be doing a 3D documentary about the plight of the Xikrin-Kayapo tribe in Brazil as they struggle against the building of a hydroelectric plant that may flood their land. It’s interesting to me that Cameron – the ardent environmentalist – has shown no similar interest in the building of China’s Three Gorges Dam, which has already flooded the ancestral homes of millions of Chinese and caused widespread environmental havoc. Your outrage is quite selective, Mr. Cameron.

Emily Blunt as the new "Iron Man" villain?

• Will Robert Rodriguez’s Machete now be receiving tax credits from Texas? [It's hilarious that the official page for film production tax credits at the Texas Film Commission website has a production still from Rodriguez's own Spy Kids 3-D.] Apparently a project can be rendered ineligible if it violates Section 43.21 of the Texas Penal Code covering “obscenity.” Here is how obscenity is defined in Texas’ code. You lawyers out there – feel free to comment.

• On the European film scene front, Jean-Luc Godard and the late Oriana Fallaci experienced their share of controversy over the years. Now comes word that Godard won’t be showing up in Hollywood to pick up his honorary Oscar (standard procedure for Jean-Luc), and Fallaci’s memoir A Man has finally been optioned. I’m an admirer of Fallaci’s writings, although she was certainly a bit histrionic at times. Nonetheless, we have no journalists here in America of her eloquence, erudition, passion – or even physical bravery. Back in the day she was quite a fox, too. She is deeply missed.

• On the sci-fi front, Juno’s Olivia Thirlby has been cast in the new 3D version of Judge Dredd, starring Star Trek’s Karl Urban; the first season of ABC’s V reboot is coming to DVD on November 2nd; Ridley Scott talks about the Alien prequels today (expect some type of coded enviro and/or anti-military messages in those films); and there’s a lot of news today regarding The Girls of Iron Man. Apparently Gwyneth Paltrow and Scarlett Johansson don’t like each other, so Johansson’s going to get her own Black Widow spin-off film in which she won’t have deal with Paltrow. Lucky her. Can the rest of us not deal with her, either?

• AND IN TODAY’S MOST IMPORTANT NEWS … Iron Man 3′s producers apparently want Emily Blunt to play the villain in that new film. Is that because Mickey Rourke was so painful to look at in the last one?

And that’s what’s happening today in the wonderful world of Hollywood.

Posted on September 7th, 2010 at 3:09pm.

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8 Responses to “Anti-Communist Drama The Ditch Surprise Hit of Venice Film Fest + Hollywood Round-up, 9/7”

  1. Vince says:

    The AP’s coverage of Venice only mentions a small blurb of “The Ditch”, but there’s a huge blow-out story on “Ward 54″, what seems to be a criticism of the Iraq War. That’s not surprising.

    As for Emily Blunt, I can only guess she would play Madame Masque.

  2. Shane says:

    Not a huge Judge Dredd fan, but I hope it does well for Karl Urban’s sake. I like him as an actor.

    I am getting addicted to this site but if you keep posting all the sexy pics of the beautiful ladies, you will need to change the name of the site to Liber-ta-tas.

  3. Trojan Horse says:

    This wave of movies (I hope I can call it a wave now) criticizing Chinese Communism is a surprising but heartening development. I hope “The Ditch” gets distribution so we can see it.

    BTW – I went and saw “Mao’s Last Dancer” and thought it was fantastic. Very stirring and patriotic toward America and the value of freedom. The lead actor was surprisingly sympathetic in the role and a really good ballet dancer. I came out inspired, which is a rare feeling to get in a movie theater nowadays. And even though I saw it with a predominantly liberal audience, everyone came out saying good things about the film. That’s pretty rare for a film with such obvious positive nods to Reagan and Bush Sr.

  4. K says:

    Chinese filmmakers are now embarking on the second half of a massive new propaganda film to glorify the history of the Communist Party.

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