The government has detained at least 55 activists since February in a wide-reaching crackdown on dissent, including ideas such as "Western constitutional democracy" and "universal ideals," Human Rights Watch said in a report Thursday.
China's mainstream movie industry is supported by the government, which sees growth potential in the world's second-biggest film market, but censorship or the expectation of it means films are often confined to safe storylines.
In the 1990s, independent filmmaking was an offshoot of mainstream film culture, but a decade or so later, artists, journalists and academics started exploring digital filmmaking, bringing new themes, such as examining poverty in rural areas or exposing the country's detention system.
Such films are rarely screened inside China except at small clubs. Some have gained critical acclaim outside China, such as Wang Bing's 9-hour "West of the Tracks," which documents the lives of workers in a decaying industrial area of China. Wang's latest film, "'Til Madness Do Us Part," will be shown at the Venice Film Festival next Wednesday. None of Wang's films have been screened in his own country.
"It's not that Chinese filmmakers are going to stop making independent films, but it is certainly worrying that these avenues inside China for screening films and for sharing and talking about films have really come under attack," said Bandurski, also a researcher at the University of Hong Kong's China Media Project.
Chinese authorities "want to manage and control the perception of China and I think that's counter-productive," he said.
AP journalist Isolda Morillo contributed to this report.
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