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Best of Beijing Independent Film Festival Coming to NYC (update: 3 new films, 2 new venues announced

* July 28 update:

– two additional screening venues have joined the series, adding two additional films to the lineup. Egg and Stone will screen August 17 at the Made in NY Media Center by IFP; and The Last Moose of Aoluguya will screen September 9 at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University.

– Additionally, UnionDocs has added a fifth film to their portion of the series: The River of Life will screen September 11.

– Filmmaker Li Luo will now be present at both screenings of his film Emperor Visits the Hell at Anthology Film Archives, August 7 and 10.

CINEMA ON THE EDGE: THE BEST OF THE BEIJING INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL 2012-2014 showcases the best recent Chinese independent cinema at multiple venues in New York City

Kickstarter campaign launches in support of Cinema on the Edge

Cinema on the Edge: The Best of the Beijing Independent Film Festival 2012-2014 August 7 to September 13, 2015 Anthology Film Archives, The Asia Society, Maysles Cinema at the Maysles Documentary Center, Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA), and UnionDocs

A film series unlike any other, “Cinema on the Edge: Best of the Beijing Independent Film Festival” celebrates the daring spirit and creative innovation of independent filmmakers and festival organizers in mainland China. The Beijing Independent Film Festival (BIFF) has been at the forefront of presenting these groundbreaking films in China, but for the last three years the festival has met substantial official resistance. Several of these films will now be brought to the United States for the first time, to be screened in some of the best museums and cinemas in New York City.

This film series features 18 programs of outstanding recent Chinese independent cinema, showcasing the work of such acclaimed filmmakers as Ai Weiwei, Li Luo, Hu Jie, Zou Xueping and Yang Mingming.  The series is organized and curated by three of Chinese independent cinema’s most committed supporters: producer and distributor Karin Chien, critic and curator Shelly Kraicer, and filmmaker and anthropologist J.P. Sniadecki. Six of NYC’s most revered film and cultural institutions will present these works: Anthology Film Archives, Asia Society, Maysles Cinematheque, The Weatherhead East Asian Insitute at Columbia University Museum of Chinese in America, Made in NY Media Center by IFP, and UnionDocs.

The program team is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for guest travel and program printing, enabling the series to foster important dialogue and discussion around these films. []

Click through for the full series description and list of films. A video introducing the campaign can be viewed here:


China is one of the most exciting places for independent cinema in the world. Its break-neck pace of change has driven its independent filmmakers to invent radical new film languages. “The independent films coming out of China continue to be at the forefront of aesthetic cinematic innovation,” says Shelly Kraicer, a veteran critic and programmer of Chinese cinema. “Responding to the crazy, unpredictable changes in Chinese society and politics, these fearless directors are challenged to create sounds and images that stretch and enrich our imaginations.”

But independent films are not allowed to be shown in China. These films are made without approval of the censors and cannot be seen in regular movie theaters. Independent film festivals offer a singular space in China for unauthorized filmmakers to meet with their audiences, and to sustain a concrete, vibrant, alternative Chinese filmmaking community.

Since 2012, independent film festivals have faced government opposition and interference. All but one or two have ceased to exist. All this may be hard to imagine in North America, where you can find film festivals every day of the year showcasing thousands of independent films.

Since 2004, the Beijing Independent Film Festival (BIFF) has been the most important venue for unauthorized films in China. Set in the artist village of Songzhuang, BIFF was a rare space where freedom of expression flourished. But in 2014, BIFF was forced to cancel its festival following aggressive police action and physical intimidation.

Award-winning filmmaker J.P. Sniadecki (The Iron Ministry; People’s Park) considers BIFF “the nexus for the most exciting filmmaking in China.” He recalls, “My first time there, I felt I had found my tribe: filmmakers, cinephiles, artists, scholars, and students gathering together to dive into a week of screenings, discussions, dinners, parties, music performances and, inevitably, various encounters with the authorities. Yet BIFF remains a grassroots affair: everyone pitches in and interactions flow easily. Our series is trying to keep that ethos alive.”

The films in BIFF 2014 were never shown. But they must be seen. With the full cooperation of BIFF, Cinema on the Edge: the Best of the Beijing Independent Film Festival 2012-2015 presentsa version of the BIFF festival in North America, screening some of its best and most representative films at five top venues in New York City from August 7 to September 13, 2015.

Films in the series include:

  1. Artist Ai Wei Wei’s bold investigative documentary Ping’an Yueqing

  2. The lushly photographed award-winning feature Emperor Visits the Hell by Li Luo

  3. The unique musical documentary People’s Park by J.P. Sniadecki and Libbie Cohn

  4. Bold works by a new generation of Chinese women filmmakers, including Yang Mingming (Female Directors) and Wen Hui (Listening to Third Grandmother’s Stories)

  5. Eye-opening documentaries revealing China’s hidden past and present: Spark, Stratum I: The Visitors, Satiated Village and I Want To Be a People’s Representative

  6. Programs showcasing contemporary China’s most outstanding works of experimental and animated filmmaking

“These films have a lot to show us, not only about China, but about storytelling freed from marketplace demands,” says Karin Chien, president and founder of dGenerate Films, a leading distributor of Chinese independent film. “These groundbreaking films deserve an audience, so we are honored to bring these films and filmmakers to New York City. Many kudos go to the bold programmers of Anthology Film Archives, Asia Society, Maysles Cinematheque, Museum of Chinese in America, and UnionDocs for embracing these films.”


Kickstarter Campaign Launches to Support Chinese Filmmakers

To maximize the social and cultural impact of the screenings, today the series program team is launching a Kickstarter campaign to allow filmmakers from China to meet audiences, and to publish a program booklet of original essays and filmmaker contributions for the series.

None of the funding will go towards paying the organizers, who are working as volunteers simply to carry out the series and allow independent filmmakers from China to meet their audience in ways they are denied at home.  By truly bringing an audience to these filmmakers, the campaign can realize the full potential of the series to celebrate the brilliance and vibrancy of these films.


About The Beijing Independent Film Festival:

The BIFF is organized and supported by the Li Xianting Film Fund, based in Songzhuang village, a suburb of Beijing noted for its concentration of artists and galleries. Li Xianting, a celebrated art critic and major figure of the Chinese art scene, established the Film Fund in 2006 to nurture independent film in China, through the Beijing Independent Film Festival and Li Xianting Independent Film School. In August 2014, police not only shut down the festival’s screenings, but also raided the Film Fund headquarters, confiscating computers, files, and its irreplaceable archive of Chinese independent films and associated materials. Despite these hardships, the Film Fund strives to continue its support of independent film in China.


Press contacts:

Kevin B. Lee: email:

Karin Chien: email:; phone: 917-209-9602


List of Films and Screening Venues in Cinema on the Edge: The Best of the Beijing Independent Film Festival 2012-2014


32 Second Avenue (at 2nd St.), New York NY 10003, (212) 505-5181,

Admission: $10 general; $8 students, seniors and children (12 & under); $6 AFA members.


?????/ Tang huang you difu

Directed by Li Luo

2012, 67 min, digital. In Mandarin with English subtitles.

Winner of the 2012 Vancouver International Film Festival’s Dragons & Tigers Prize, this is a quietly astonishing tour de force that hinges on a lovely conceit: relocating to the present day the famous story of the Tang dynasty Emperor Taizong’s visit to the underworld. Shot in elegant, black-and-white long takes, the film spins a tale of a local river god, the Dragon King, who, feuding with a fortune teller, alters the weather without authorization and is condemned to death. When the Emperor fails to commute the god’s sentence, otherworldly retribution is swift: he is summoned to Hell. Li’s audacious use of multiple levels of storytelling and filmmaking craftily and joyously subverts every authority around.

–Fri, Aug 7 at 6:45 and Mon, Aug 10 at 9:00 (intro and Q&A with director Li Luo at both screenings)


????/ Tianyuan jiang wu

Directed by Wang Xiaozhen

2013, 96 min, digital. In Shandong dialect with English subtitles.

This curiously beautiful Daoist comedy, the opening film of BIFF2013, is a first film full of promise. Wang, painting with scrupulously composed, eloquent black-and-white images, tells of a young urbanite who brings his girlfriend to meet his farmer parents in the countryside of Shandong province. Although nothing precisely happens, the farm and surrounding woods are a stage for almost non-stop cursing, kissing, pissing, and fucking. It’s both earthy and somehow unworldly at the same time, featuring perfectly ribald kids, a voyeuristic brother with a urination fetish, and a deadpan comic couple. Wang has a terrific eye, and an utterly unique, low-key comic voice.

–Fri, Aug 7 at 8:45  (introduced by critic and Cinema on the Edge programmer Shelly Kraicer) and Tues, Aug 11 at 7:00.



Directed by Huang Xiang, Xu Ruotao, and JP Sniadecki

2013, 65 min, 16mm-to-digital. In Gansu dialect with English subtitles.

Two Chinese avant-garde artists and an American experimental filmmaker have collaborated on a stunningly beautiful Chinese experimental-fiction-documentary that dazzlingly combines ghost stories and “ruin porn” to form a celluloid psycho-collage. Shot on 16mm film, it’s set in the largely abandoned oil drilling town of Yumen – a place with an ancient, poetic history in China’s western Gansu province – and takes us through trashed, desolate urban spaces abandoned by Chinese socialism. But the filmmakers bring these places alive with their cast of ghosts, artists, vagabond dancers, and singers. It’s a film chock full of fascinating things: massive oil pumps and sun-blasted vistas; nude performance art and impromptu flamenco; fuzzy bunny rabbits and snarling canines; groovy 70s Taiwan pop and contemporary Korean girl bands; socialist nostalgia and postmodern pastiche.

–Sat, Aug 8 at 6:45 and Tues, Aug 11 at 9:00.       


?????????? / Wo guxiangde si zhong siwang fangshi

Directed by Chai Chunya

2012, 90 min, digital. In Gansu dialect with English subtitles.

A four-part fiction film that’s as much poetry as it is narrative, first-time filmmaker Chai Chunya’s gorgeous work evokes four characters – a poet, a searcher, a puppet master, and a shaman – each with intense, mystical, deeply-rooted spiritual links to the land (the film was shot in and around Gansu province) mediated by the four elemental symbols: earth, water, fire, and wind. The film’s logic is associative, dreamlike; Chai builds up a series of striking tableaux, hypnotically suggestive and pictorially spectacular. Two young women lose a camel, then a father. A retired shadow puppeteer meets a gun-toting tree thief. Storytellers and shamans evoke a lost spiritual world that Chai films back to life in spectacular visual motifs whose meanings are intuited, like deeply felt communal memories.

–Sat, Aug 8 at 8:45 and Wed, Aug 12 at 7:00.         


??? / Nü daoyan

Directed by Yang Mingming

2012, 43 min, digital. In Mandarin with English subtitles.

Two brilliant young women, art school graduates with deliciously profane vocabularies and supreme confidence, talk sex, cinema, and power, as they wield their shared video camera like a scalpel. Yang Mingming’s superb debut is hilarious, moving, and subversive: is it documentary or fiction, or something new that violates both modes with gleeful abandon?



?????????? / Ting sannainai jiang guoqu de shiqing

Directed by Wen Hui

2012, 75 min, digital, b&w/color. In Mandarin with English subtitles.

A language written by women confronts official ideology in dancer/choreographer/filmmaker Wen Hui’s film. She starts from stories her 83-year-old great-aunt tells her of being tortured as a “class enemy” during Mao’s China: the result is poetry, an experimental documentary that combines testimony and dance-like gesture, in black-and-white and color.

–Sun, Aug 9 at 5:30 and Wed, Aug 12 at 9:00.       



Directed by Ai Weiwei

2011, 142 min, digital. In Mandarin with English subtitles.

The documentaries produced by Ai Weiwei’s studio are closer to investigative journalism than to conceptual art. This film in particular starts from a specific case, the mysterious death by “road accident” of a village leader, Qian Yunhui from Zhejiang province, an activist who stood up for his fellow villagers when their land was confiscated without compensation by the local government. Qian’s death in 2010 quickly became a cause célèbre online in China. Ai and his team take up the challenge of determining what really happened, and dig deep into the land dispute lying behind what looks like the convenient murder of a rights advocate. The story unfolds like a thriller, but an ultra-realist one, with terrified villagers, government media spectacles, conflicting stories, and a mysteriously disappearing surveillance video.

–Sun, Aug 9 at 8:00 and Thurs, Aug 13 at 6:30.



??? / Jingangjing

Directed by Bi Gan

2012, 26 min, digital

A visually splendid poem that provocatively but elegantly juxtaposes a poet, a singer, a river, a pair of murderers, and the Diamond Sutra.


???16?/ Chai tiesi #16

Directed by Zhi Jun

2014, 30 min, digital

After a fire, scarred bonsai trees are meticulously freed of their supporting wires by medical professionals.


Directed by Chen Zhou

2013, 34 min, digital

The color yellow, as well as artist Chen Zhou and his alter ego(s), star in this droll, playfully conceptual tour de force.

Total running time: ca. 95 min.

–Mon, Aug 10 at 7:00 and Thurs, Aug 13 at 9:15.


(August 17)

30 John St. DUMBO Brooklyn, New York NY 11201, (718) 729-6677,


by Huang Ji

2011, 98 min, digital. In Hunan dialect with English subtitles.

Winner of the 2012 International Film Festival Rotterdam’s Tiger Award, Huang Ji’s brave personal film is one of the most auspicious debuts in recent Chinese cinema. Set in her home village in rural Hunan province, Egg and Stone is a powerful autobiographical portrait of a 14-year-old girl’s attempts to come to terms with her emerging sexual maturity. Since her parents moved to the city to work, she has been forced to live with her uncle and aunt for seven years. Alone with her own inchoate fears and desires, she grapples with a terrifying world of sexual awakening and danger. Huang Ji’s visual sophistication, narrative fluency, and technical polish belie her youth. Cinematographer Ryuji Otsuka (also the film’s producer and editor) contributes beautifully crafted cinematic images, fearfully intimate, softly pulsing with light, saturated with complex emotional power.

– Monday, August 17 at 7:00pm


343 Lenox Avenue / Malcolm X Boulevard, New York, NY 10027 (between 127th and 128th Streets), (212) 537-6843,

$10 General Admission (suggested)


???/ Kong yanjing

Directed by Xu Tong 2014, 80 min, digital. In Chinese with English subtitles.

Er Housheng is a blind musician who travels Inner Mongolia with his lover/partner Liu Lanlan performing the saucy, sensationally bawdy form of musical duet comedy called er ren tai. Er’s female audiences are particularly enthralled with his combination of sensuality, Rabelaisian earthiness, and frankly socially subversive lyrics. Director Xu’s specialty is to train his piercingly observant documentary camera — intimate and complicit, rather than coldly objective —  on unique Chinese characters like Er, using them to probe deep beneath the surface of China’s clash of rural traditions with its urbanizing contemporaneity. The result is, on one hand, an enthralling ethnographic showpiece; but it’s at its core a passionate and frenzied psycho-drama of lust, violence, and genius.

– Tuesday, August 18 at 7:30pm (intro and discussion with Angela Zito, professor at NYU, filmmaker and co-curator of Reel China @NYU Film Festival)


2015, approx. 85 minutes, digital. In Chinese with English subtitles.

This film documents the 11th Beijing Independent Film Festival in 2014, from the preparations before the opening ceremony to the process of its forced cancellation, the event which spurred the Cinema on the Edge series. The footage used for the film was captured by audience members, local artists, invited directors and special guests, festival volunteers and workers, as well as journalists and members of the media.  It is a film produced by the collective.

Wednesday, August 19 at 7:30pm, Q&A with filmmaker Wang Wo and filmmaker and Cinema on the Edge co-organizer J.P. Sniadecki)

ASIA SOCIETY (August 20 and 24)

725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street), New York, NY 10021; 212-288-6400;

Tickets: $12 General; $10 Seniors; $7 Students; Free for members and persons under 16. Admission is free on Fridays from 6:00 to 9:00 pm. PEOPLE’S PARK ????/ Renmin gongyuan Directed by J.P. Sniadecki & Libbie Cohn 2012, 75 min, digital. In Sichuanese and Mandarin Chinese. This is an experimental, structuralist documentary shot in People’s Park, Chengdu, Sichuan, in one single, bravura take lasting 75 minutes by two young American directors. Their camera captures the fullness of Chinese urban leisure life. As the camera pans side to side and glides relentlessly forward through the park, it catches hundreds of Chinese urbanites out for fun, relaxation, socializing, and a certain kind of freedom: eating, strolling, singing, practicing calligraphy, and watching each other. Watching becomes dancing, as the film slowly gathers an ecstatic, trance-like groove, building to a rapturous climax, as people, movement, music, image, and sound mix together: this is as close to pure pleasure as cinema gets.

Thursday, August 20 at 6:30pm (Q&A with J.P. Sniadecki)

THE DOSSIER ?? / Dang’an Directed by Zhu Rikun 2014, 129 min. In Chinese with English subtitles. Tsering Woeser, the subject of Chinese filmmaker Zhu Rikun’s extraordinary documentary, is a Tibetan writer now based in Beijing. Through her writing and online voice, she has become one of the most eloquent voices on Tibet. Zhu Rikun’s sharply designed, formally innovative documentary is completely in Woeser’s own voice: Zhu alternates formally photographed scenes of Woeser reading excerpts from her secret government “dossier” (which she has somehow gained access to) with scenes of her speaking in her own soft but powerful, eloquent, passionate voice. Woeser’s moving account of her political awakening and current activism makes for a powerful document of a Tibetan woman finding her voice and insisting on her freedom to use it.

Monday, August 24 at 6:30pm (Q&A with Zhu Rikun)


420 W 118th St #9, New York, NY 10027 (212) 854-2592


??? / An da han

Directed by Gu Tao

2013, 100 min, digital. In Chinese with English subtitles.

Award winning filmmaker Gu Tao’s weirder-than fiction documentary is a portrait of Weijia, a hunter-poet with a tumultuous life. Weijian is a member of the Ewenki minority, whose homeland is near Siberia in far northeastern China. Forbidden to continue hunting, the Ewenki have been forced to move from their forests into dreary Chinese government-designed permanent villages. Like many, deprived of livelihood, Weijia spends his time drinking and being a poet … when all of a sudden, as in a fairytale, a young teacher from Hainan, the tropical paradise island in China’s far south, comes to marry him and sweep him away. Weijia, clad in tropical print shirts, doesn’t quite fit into paradise, and his story turns dark, with intimations of madness and violence.

Wednesday, September 9, 6pm


215 Centre Street, New York, NY 10013, (212) 619-4785,

Admission: $10 General; $5 Seniors (65+ w/ID) and Students (w/school ID); free for MOCA Members and Children under 12 in groups less than 10.


(108 min total running time)

Perfect Conjugal Bliss / ???? Zhong Su, 6’ 2014 A gorgeous 3D animation unscrolling through Chinese history, from grey urban collapse to ultra-coloured consumer dystopia.

How / ??? Zhang Yipin, 5’ 2013

Traditional pen-and-ink drawings, animating a fuzzy-haired ruddy-cheeked girl’s imaginative world of terror and freedom.

The Hunter and the Skeleton / ?????? Bai Bin 26’ (prize) 2012

A spectacular animated version, flash plus thangka, of an Eastern Tibetan folk tale: when a hunter meets a fearsome skeleton monster, are they friends, or enemies?

An Apple Tree / ??? Bai Bin, 11’ 2013

A Tibetan fable, in vivid colours, of an indomitable tree, assailed yet triumphant.

Double Act / ?? Ding Shiwei, 5’  2013

Black-and-white industrial surreal: bodies float between familiar bureaucratic monuments above, and sunflowers beneath the earth.

Mirror Room / ?? Zhou Xiaohu 8’ 2012

Master clay animator Zhou fashions a bathroom of hallucinatory reflections, where Lacan meets fascism

The New Book of Mountains and Seas Part 2 / ????2 Qiu Anxiong 29’ (2007) 2012

Animating classic-styled ink and pen drawings, and filling them with quasi-nightmarish animal-machine forms, Qiu suggests a world under ecological collapse, where genetically tampered animal forms expire on earth and colonize the stars.

Family Reunion / ???? Chen Li-hua 18’  2012

A-mei, a Taiwanese aboriginal woman working in a factory, is called home for the Harvest Festival, but her boss refuses. In Chen’s imaginative tale, illustrated with cut out and line drawn animation, a daughter’s powerful dreaming saves all.

UNIONDOCS (September 11-13)

322 Union Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY 11211,


Shengming de heliu

Directed by Yang Pingdao

2014, 101 min, digital. in Mandarin and Cantonese with English subtitles.

Yang Pingdao is one of China’s most exciting emerging filmmakers. His astonishingly creative camera eye brings unexpected beauty to his new feature length film. Using an innovative structure, based on the distinctive texture of family memory through space and time, Yang invents something poised delicately between fiction and documentary to capture crystallized moments in his family history, to recreate in cinematic form its emotional weight and variety, woven around the life and death of his grandmother, and the birth of his child. In order to combine extended family chronicle, implicit national history, and intimate soul-bearing autobiography, Yang employs gentle formal experimentation to invent new cinematic pathways.  Opening film and prize winner of BIFF 2014.

September 11



Directed by Hu Jie

2014, 101 min, digital. In Mandarin with English subtitles.

Probably China’s most important unofficial historian-filmmaker, Hu Jie documents with his camera episodes that Chinese official history, for now, ignores. Spark was an underground magazine published in 1960 by four young intellectuals who wanted to expose the devastating famine caused by Mao’s Great Leap Forward, a horrendous period of national suffering that is still unmentioned in China’s history textbooks today. This is filmmaking as urgent historical investigation: with a shoestring budget Hu combines years of research, and a knack for getting people to talk without fear about the most taboo subjects in China’s recent past. His alternative oral history approach knits together courageous and frequently moving interviews with the magazine’s surviving editor, supporters, and readers, who were ready to sacrifice themselves to alert their countrymen to unprecedented disaster.

September 12

STRATUM 1: THE VISITORS Diceng 1: laike

Directed by Cong Feng

2013, 71 min, digital. In Mandarin with English subtitles.

Poet and filmmaker Cong Feng started to film a documentary about whole-scale urban demolition in the Beijing suburb of Tongzhou, but discovered that the extraordinary rapidity of change and the furious power of China’s history of destruction required something more experimental, more essay-like. From hallucinatory (are they perhaps utopian? despairing?) images of a bulldozer seeming to conjure up a building from its rubble, we follow two characters wandering through debris, telling stories of childhood trauma (featuring canine, not human loyalty during a horrific episode from the Cultural Revolution). Cong, like a visual paleo-geologist, unearths surreal, chilling images of otherworldly beauty emanating from the buried strata of this collapsing world, whose history threatens to be suffocated by layers of experience, of loss, of unremembered suffering.

September 12


Wo yao dang renmin daibiao

Directed by Jia Zhitan

2014, 78 min, digital. In Hunanese with English subtitles.

Can a documentary camera be a tool for democracy in China? Jia Zhitan certainly thinks so, and wields his camera like an anti-bureaucratic weapon. Jia, a member of Caochangdi’s influential Villagers Documentary Project (organizer Wu Wenguang has been training local villagers to use digital video cameras to record their participation in ultra-local politics), wants to run to be a delegate to the National People’s Congress. He wins the first round, but is deemed unqualified by officials for reasons they keep to themselves. As the irrepressibly scrappy and stubborn Jia seeks explanations and redress from ever higher levels of authority, he records their interactions scenes that would play as entertaining satiric comedy if they weren’t so frustratingly real.

September 13


Chibao de cunzi

Directed by Zou Xueping

2011, 88 min. In Shandong dialect with English subtitles.

Zou Xueping’s took her first documentary The Hungry Village (part of Caochangdi Workstation’s Folk Memory Project) — made up of first-person testimony about the effects of the Great Famine of 1960 (see Hu Jie’s Spark for another view) on her home village in Shandong —  back home to show her subjects. They unanimously disapproved. Frustrated and full of doubt, Zou then made this second documentary discussing the villagers’ reactions to her first. This wonderful, searching, self-reflexive film questions the necessity and usefulness of truth-telling via cinema, when it brings pain and even shame upon neighbours and family. Zou’s 9-year-old niece emerges as its star, a girl who can balance competing exigencies of truth and love with a wisdom beyond her years.

September 13 (Q&A with Zou Xueping)

A reception and discussion on participatory filmmaking with Zou Xueping and filmmaker Li Xinmin will take place between the screenings on September 13.

A reception and discussion on participatory filmmaking with Zou Xueping and filmmaker Li Xinmin will take place between the screenings on September 13.


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