The Village-Grown Dialect Film Festival

A still from ‘River,’ a Best Feature Film in the 2018 Zurong Dialect

China’s first and only film festival dedicated to dialects has already celebrated its third birthday.

GUANGDONG, South China — For three centuries, quiet Zurong Village at the southernmost tip of China’s mainland hasn’t had much to offer visitors, aside from tropical fruit. But that all changed when a local businessman decided to make the small town the center of a nationwide film festival.

For the past three years, the village has hosted the Zurong Dialect Film Festival, China’s first to celebrate the country’s dialects. The country is host to over 130 languages with countless regional variants, according to the Ministry of Education. However, dialects differ so greatly that Chinese speakers often cannot even understand them. In Zurong itself, the residents speak Min, a variety of Chinese spoken along China’s southern coast.

The festival began thanks to Chen Yu, a businessman with a background in real estate and food manufacturing. For him, the dialect film festival is a way to promote tourism and develop the local economy. “My hometown doesn’t have a rich history or anything else that can be put on a billboard,” says Chen, who also plans to open a dialect-film museum. “We needed to introduce cultural resources from outside the village.”

A still from ‘The Foolish Bird,’ a Best Feature Film in the 2018 Zurong Dialect Film Festival. From Douban

The Zurong Dialect Film Festival has grown from having nine winners out of just 279 candidates, to 17 out of 956. This year’s Best Feature Film was a tie between two works: “The Foolish Bird,” a story of sexual awakening filmed in central China’s Hunan dialect, and a Tibetan-language film “River.” The films are judged by a nine-person jury made up of directors, movie critics, and language experts. At the award ceremony, which was held this October in a suburb of nearby megacity Guangzhou, A-listers were few and far between. The festival instead has tended to attract famous dialect-lovers, such as TV hosts Cui Yongyuan and Wang Han, who are listed as festival co-founders.

Despite the large numbers of Chinese who speak other dialects or languages, films in non-standard Mandarin have sometimes struggled to find success. Read the full article here.

– The article originally appeared on Sixth Tone.