MINT Chinese Film Festival brings together graduate talent in women on screen
We hear from alumni and staff in Asian Studies and Film, Exhibition and Curation about the very first edition of a new festival showcasing films by and about Chinese women.
For a recent graduate of Film, Exhibition and Curation (FEC), discovering that a fellow Edinburgh alumna shares your passion is exciting… better still that they own and run a cinema!
This is what happened to FEC graduate Yixiang Shirley Lin when she met two-time Asian Studies alumna Carol Rennie at an Independent Cinema Office (ICO) event in late 2022.
Carol has a PhD on Taiwanese women writers and had long been keen to promote more Chinese cinema through her programming at the Keswick Alhambra Cinema, which she owns and runs in the English Lake District.
In just a few short months, what started life as Yixiang’s final masters Applied Research project on contemporary female curatorship was transformed into the MINT Chinese Film Festival – a Chinese film extravaganza, founded and organised by women, and focussed primarily on films by women, and about women's experiences.
Films from all over the sinosphere
Talking about co-founding the festival, which took place over three days in February 2023, Carol says “It was truly serendipity for me, meeting Yixiang at a screening day in Kendal. It really was a dream come true to find out that there was expertise such as hers in the country - I’d have never been able to source all the films she secured for the Festival, from all over the sinosphere.”
Talking about growing her audience, she adds “nor did I have any idea how large the numbers of Chinese students in the UK studying film were - which meant that we had a viable potential audience as well as a film programme. Having a venue ideally located just two hours away from the two major centres of film studies in Leeds and Edinburgh meant the stars were aligned.”
Speaking of the opening gala, which involved a screening of the 1927 silent film Pan Si Dong with experimental live music performance and electronic mix by Aurora Engine, Jane Sillars (FEC MSc Co-Director) says “It was absolutely incredible: a packed cinema, 144 festival pass holders, and coachloads of students from Edinburgh, Leeds and London. Definitely one of my film highlights of the last few years and a total treat to see this extraordinary event come off”.
“Student travel from Edinburgh was generously supported by the University’s Alumni-funded Student Experience Grants following an application by Student Representative Charline Froment. We know from the field trips on our programme just how valuable this kind of participation and exchange can be for students’ wider development; and how much they are cherished as part of the Edinburgh experience”.
Underrepresented voices and marginalised groups
Yixiang Shirley Lin was already an emerging film curator when she came to Edinburgh; studying here was a chance to pause and reflect on her work in a transcultural context.
Asked what inspires her, she says “embracing my role as both mediator and artist, committed to curating for underrepresented voices and marginalised groups… all while embarking on my own path of self-discovery, exploring the fluid female subjectivity”.
She was the Lead Curator of MINT’s packed programme, which incorporated 25 films (both feature and short), panel discussions and cultural events involving musicians, artists, and filmmakers – all designed to mediate cross-cultural communication of Chinese cinema.
After a month-long worldwide open call, over 400 submissions were received for the short film competition - five were shortlisted by a jury of professionals and young critics, seven were screened, and the Audiences’ Choice Award winner was able to attend the Festival in person.
Several FEC students, past and present, were on the Festival organising committee or worked as volunteers, and lecturer Andy Moore joined Jane Sillars in attending the opening night.
Xuelei Huang, Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies at Edinburgh, introduced the gala film and took part in a panel discussion on women’s representation in Chinese cinema, alongside her former student Giulia D’Aquila (Masters in Chinese Studies, 2020).
Xuelei says “I was proud of working with this all-female University of Edinburgh alumni team, and so delighted that I could make a small contribution to this excellent event that brought cross-cultural interactions in fruition in and beyond the local Keswick community.”
Reflecting on the support of the Edinburgh community, Yixiang signs off with “I am incredibly proud of what we were able to achieve with the MINT Chinese Film Festival, and I believe that it is a testament to the power of creative collaboration and the importance of having an inclusive curatorial vision.”
UPDATE (SEPTEMBER 2023): On Tuesday 26 September, Yixiang and Carol will co-present at ICO's Inclusion and Diversity Screening Day online. Their session on Running a Diverse Film Festival in a Rural Context will cover their unique programming strategies, audience engagement, collaboration patterns and community outreach. The MINT Chinese Film Festival returns to Keswick Alhambra Cinema for its second edition from 1 to 4 February 2024.