Art College 1994 Art College 1994

Liu Jian’s Art College 1994, which debuted at the Berlinale earlier this year and is competing at the Annecy festival this week, has been acquired by New York’s Dekanalog for North American distribution and will get a theatrical run in 2024.

Set in an era when China was loosening its borders to influences from the Western world, the film follows a group of students in the mid-1990s amidst a clash of idealism vs. reality and tradition vs. modernity. In that very specific time and place, several young students pursue their dreams of making art, forming deep friendships, and falling in love.

The hand-drawn 2d feature was produced by a team of teachers and students at the China Academy Of Art (CAA), where Liu is a professor. Production took five years. According to the Academy, the film possesses “aesthetics that exhibit distinctive Chinese elements is a significant creative and pedagogical product of CAA’s pursuit of ‘neorealistic animation.’”

Art College 1994 is such an exciting, life-affirming new film, and having the opportunity to share this masterclass of animation with cinema audiences in North America is a dream come true for us,” Dekanalog co-founder Lysa Le told Variety, which broke the news.

Art College 1994 has maneuvered a bumpy road to get where it is today. The film premiered in February at the Berlinale but was originally meant to debut in the Directors’ Fortnight section at the 2022 Cannes Festival under the title A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. However, shortly before its would-be premiere, the Chinese government imposed new Covid restrictions that made taking the movie abroad impossible.

Lui also faced government-imposed difficulties when trying to bring his 2017 film Have a Nice Day to Annecy, where China had been selected as that year’s guest country. On the eve of the festival, the Chinese government asked Annecy to omit the film from competition, putting organizers in an unenviable position. Eventually, they obliged, and Have a Nice Day was removed from the festival.

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