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Ying Liang’s New Film <i>When Night Falls</i> Screens at Toronto International Film Festival

On the heels of winning two awards at the Locarno International Film Festival this month, Ying Liang’s acclaimed and controversial new film When Night Falls will make its North American debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in September as part of the Wavelengths program. Screening details and a full program description by TIFF programmer Andrea Picard can be found after the break.

The film, based on the real life experiences of a woman whose son was executed for attacking a police station in Shanghai, drew scrutiny from Chinese authorities when it premiered at the Jeonju International Film Festival, effectively preventing Ying Liang from returning to China.

Thursday September 13 TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 4:15 PM

Friday September 14 Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 9 5:15 PM

Following in a lineage of great auteurs that includes Jia Zhangke and Wang Bing, Ying Liang is one of China’s most gifted and fascinating independent filmmakers, and one who deserves to be better known in North America. At a time when the drive for human rights and artistic freedom is becoming ever more urgent, his latest film When Night Falls is a bold contribution to the recent global wave of socially committed cinema spearheaded by such major artists as Jafar Panahi and Ai Weiwei.

When Night Falls is a work of fiction based on the gruesome and tragic real-life story of Yang Jia, a young man from the outskirts of Shanghai who was fined for riding an unregistered bicycle, reportedly beaten while in police custody, and subsequently harassed as he sought to bring charges against the officers. After unsuccessfully petitioning for justice, Yang Jia snapped, walked into a local police station and murdered six officers. Or so it seems: the facts in the case remain gallingly nebulous, even though Yang Jia was executed shortly thereafter for the crime. Widely interpreted as an extreme act of political resistance, the case enraged Chinese human rights activists (including Ai Weiwei, who has made his own documentary about the tragedy).

But the focus of When Night Falls is not Yang Jia, but rather his mother, Wang Jingmei (a wrenching performance by Nai An, a non-professional actor and producer for filmmaker Lou Ye), who was illegally detained in a mental hospital under a false name following her son’s arrest, and prevented from giving evidence to mount Yang Jia’s defense. Struggling to comprehend how her gentle, generous and law-abiding son could ever have committed such a heinous act, Wang Jingmei is forced to deal with issues both banal and surreal, personifying the collateral human damage caused by a regime that wilfully ignores its own laws when convenient.

Shot in long, static takes and constricting compositions — which partake of documentary-style realism while reinforcing the suffocating atmosphere of rank injustice, sorrow and paranoia — When Night Falls is a work of profound and vital humanism. Bravely and eloquently giving voice to those who have been forcibly silenced — the film’s original Chinese title can be translated as “I Still Have Something To Say” — Ying Liang has made an impassioned rallying cry for transparency and fairness in a state’s relations to its citizens.

– Andréa Picard


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