Geling Yan says a movie doesn’t credit her. The world of cinema shrugs its shoulders.

In 2018, as a famous Chinese director was preparing to shoot a movie, his team sent novelist Geling Yan a 33-page script with her name printed on every page. Ms. Yan said it made sense to her because she wrote the Chinese-language novel that inspired the film.

But when the movie “One Second” was released in China and elsewhere two years later, his name did not appear in the credits. It was directed by Zhang Yimou, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker whose works include “Raise the Red Lantern” and “House of Flying Daggers.”

Ms Yan, who has publicly criticized the Chinese government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, said she was not surprised to see her name removed from a film produced in the country. Still, she said, she thought the companies distributing and promoting it outside of China might agree to credit her in some way.

Since then, Ms. Yan and her husband, Lawrence Walker, who is also her manager, have been asking companies in Asia, Europe and North America to do just that, whether in the film itself or in their Promotional material.

Credit…A second

“I don’t think they should acquiesce in this kind of offence,” said Ms. Yan, an established Chinese-American novelist who lives in Berlin.

But they have mostly remained silent. Ms. Yan’s campaign and muted response show how an apparent censorship move in China can quietly ripple through the world of arthouse cinema.

“It is not the first time that we have been involved in an issue like this with Chinese cinema,” José Luis Rebordinos, director of the San Sebastián Film Festival in Spain, told Mr Walker in an e -email last year. Mr Rebordinos added that, despite his best efforts to help, “sometimes there is nothing we can do”.

“One Second”, released in 2020, is set during the Cultural Revolution in China. It follows a prisoner who escapes from a labor camp to see a newsreel, hoping to catch a glimpse of his daughter.

Ms. Yan, 63, said the film’s plot mirrors that of “Criminal Lu Yanshi», his 2011 novel about a Chinese intellectual sent to a labor camp in the 1950s.

The film was “definitely influenced” by the book, though it diverged in other ways, said Huang Yi-Kuan, a literature professor at National Changhua University of Education in Taiwan. “I think it should at least be mentioned that the inspiration for this film was taken from Yan Geling’s novel,” she said.

Ms. Yan sold the film rights to the novel to Mr. Zhang in 2011, under a deal reviewed by The New York Times. Three years later, he released “Coming Home”, a film based on “The Criminal Lu Yanshi” about a political prisoner during the Cultural Revolution. The contract did not explicitly prohibit Mr. Zhang from making another film based on the same book.

In fall 2018, a literary adviser to Mr. Zhang told Ms. Yan on WeChat, a Chinese messaging platform, that “One Second” could not credit “The Criminal Lu Yanshi,” according to screenshots by their correspondence that Ms. Yan’s husband provided to The Times. The adviser said it could create a legal problem for the director as he had an unrelated copyright dispute with a Chinese production company.

As a compromise, the adviser offered to add a line at the end of the film thanking Ms. Yan for her contribution without mentioning her novel, the correspondence shows. Ms. Yan agreed to this, she said in a recent interview, because she trusted Mr. Zhang.

“We have worked together for so many years,” Ms. Yan said. In addition to “The Criminal Lu Yanshi”, one of his other novels became the basis for Mr. Zhang’s film “The Flowers of War”, released in 2011 and starring Christian Bale.

But just before “One Second” was released, she said, the literary adviser called to say the Chinese government had ordered her name removed from the credits.

Neither Mr. Zhang nor the literary advisor who spoke with Ms. Yan responded to interview requests. Neither does the China Film Administration, a state agency overseeing the country’s film industry.

Huanxi Media, one of the production companies behind “One Second,” said in an email that the film “has nothing to do” with Ms. Yan’s novels. And mainland Chinese films cannot be edited after receiving public release approvals, the company added.

In 2019, “One Second” was unexpectedly pulled from the Berlin Film Festival, a decision the film’s official account on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, attributed to “technical reasons” – an understatement in China for government censorship.

Mr Walker said he and his wife understand the realities of the Chinese market. What they cannot accept, he said, is that most of the companies and festivals that distribute or promote the film overseas have in no way wanted to credit her.

“It’s not something that happens to a poor soul in a distant part of China,” Mr Walker said. “It happens to a professional screenwriter and an American citizen – now, in the United States and other countries – as a result of Chinese censorship.”

There are two notable exceptions.

One of the companies Mr Walker wrote to, Mubi, a London-based streaming service that caters to art house cinephiles, now Ms. Yan lists on a page of her website which promotes “One Second”.

And this month, york, a film group in Berlin, began showing what it called an “introductory note” ahead of its screenings of “One Second” that credits Ms. Yan’s novel as the film’s inspiration. Marvin Wiechert, spokesperson for Yorck, said in an email that the company learned of its claims of missing credit from its lawyers and people who attended a recent preview screening of the film at Berlin.

“We thought it would be an appropriate response as an arthouse exhibitor who cares deeply about artistic expression and ownership,” he said of the decision to add note.

But Mr Walker said he had not heard from Mubi, Yorck or other companies involved in the film’s international distribution. The list includes companies from Hong Kong and the United States, as well as film festivals in Boston and two Canadian cities. None of them responded to inquiries from The Times, except for a Toronto International Film Festival spokeswoman who said the festival director was too busy for an interview.

Ms. Yan has not taken any legal action regarding her claim. For now, Walker said, his legal team is seeking settlement in France or the United States.

Isabelle Denis, head of legal and business affairs at Wild Bunch International, the film’s international distributor in Paris, told the Times in an email that the company did not produce “One Second” and therefore had no authority. to adjudicate Ms. Yan’s claim. about a missing screen credits or mediate between her and the filmmaker.

Ms. Yan’s case echoes previous examples of film censorship in China, a country that is a huge source of income for Hollywood. This year, for example, the end of “Fight Club”, the cult 1999 film starring Brad Pitt, was cut from its Chinese edition. It was only restored after the changes attracted international attention.

In Ms. Yan’s case, her lawyers probably wouldn’t be able to make a strong legal case to give her credit in “One Second” because Mr. Zhang never agreed in writing to do so, Victoria said. L. Schwartz, Professor of Law. at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.

However, legal exposure is not the same as reputational risk, said Professor Schwartz, who specializes in entertainment law and intellectual property litigation. Ms. Yan’s campaign, she said, raises the question of whether the film industry in the United States, including unions that represent writers, should develop better standards for evaluating international films from ” heavily censored markets”.

“Should there be standards in place?” said Professor Schwartz. “Should these companies do better not because they have to do it legally, but because it’s the right thing to do?”

Liu Yi contributed to the research.

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