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Philipp Niemietz – cinema for a more diverse image of China

Philipp Niemietz in Luzhi, Jiangsu Province 2019.

Since 2019, he has been working as a cultural coordinator at the Leipzig Confucius Institute. The institute’s mission is to promote the Chinese language and culture. For Niemietz, that means he and his team organize the annual Chinese film festival “CHAI”. “We try to give a space to voices that are otherwise not heard,” he says, talking about a film about an almost unknown youth movement called Shamate. “There are always things that even we, who deal with China on a daily basis, don’t know about yet,” Niemietz says.

With the film festival, he wants to show a more diverse picture of China and encourage viewers to think. “We choose films that surprise us, that are topical but are not found in the media or even in Chinese discourse.”

Making movies under difficult conditions

Among the films selected for the festival, many are censored or banned in China – media censorship is also part of his daily work. “It’s not that we pay special attention to showing films that are censored or banned in China. But I do take note of the difficulties, of course.”

Filmmakers often don’t know why certain scenes are censored, he says. “The whole process is extremely unclear.” Just recently, he spoke with a director who said it was becoming harder to make movies in China – especially documentaries. Niemietz hopes that this trend will eventually turn around, toward more free filmmaking.

As a German assistant in the 10-million-metropolis

Looking back on his first touches with the People’s Republic, Niemietz says, “China has become a very everyday part of me.” He was 18 when he first visited the country, in Suzhou, west of Shanghai. He applied to a cultural organization for volunteer service abroad – without being able to specify where he would like to go. It became China.

So Niemietz traveled to the city of 10 million without speaking a word of Chinese and without knowing much about the country where he would live for a year. “I was completely unbiased, I didn’t even have any prejudices,” he recalls.

Niemietz worked as a German assistant at a school, lived in the teachers’ dormitory and stood in front of young people in the classroom who were barely younger than himself. But the small age difference also had its advantages: “In the afternoons they took me to town and we went on little trips.”

In his first year in China, Niemietz became enthusiastic about the language, the people, and the food. He tells of the hospitality and selflessness of those who have hardly anything themselves. And, of course, about the speed of change in this country. “It was all incredibly fascinating.”

Back in Germany, Niemietz then studied sinology in Leipzig, and later Chinese and translation in Bonn. Svenja Napp


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