The Berlinale has added the Chinese animated feature Art College 1994 to its official competition lineup, expanding the field to 19 films. Art College, directed by Liu Jian, is the second animated feature picked for this year’s main competition, joining Makoto Shinkai’s Suzume.
The film follows a group of students in China in the mid-1990s amidst a clash of idealism vs. reality and tradition vs. modernity. There and then, a group of young students pursue their dreams of making art, forming deep friendships and falling in love along the way.
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 will be world premiering later this month in Berlin, although it was originally meant to debut in the Directors’ Fortnight section at last year’s Cannes festival under the title A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. However, its participation in the French event was never officially revealed, and shortly before its would-be premiere, the Chinese government imposed new Covid restrictions that made taking the movie abroad impossible.
Art College 1994 isn’t Liu’s first film to hit a government-imposed roadblock either. Back in 2017, Lui’s Have a Nice Day was selected to screen in competition at Annecy, where China had been selected as that year’s guest country. However, on the eve of the festival, the Chinese government lobbied Annecy to remove the film from competition, a request with which the festival complied.
Eventually, Have a Nice Day did make it abroad again, even scoring U.S. distribution by Strand Releasing. Art College sales agent Memento International will be hoping for a smoother ride to global distribution with Liu’s latest film.