The Canadian film In God I Trust by director Maja Zdanowski has been disinvited by the Beijing Film Festival from its 2019 event next month amid a growing diplomatic feud between the U.S. and China over the Chinese mobile phone maker Huawei Technologies.
Toronto-based Zdanowski told The Hollywood Reporter she received an official invitation March 25 for her film to screen in competition in Beijing. “It’s a great pleasure to inform you the excellent film In God I Trust is selected by the committee of the Beijing International Film Festival to screen in Forward Future Section and compete with other 17 films for final awards,” the invitation stated.
But in a March 26 email, the state-run Beijing festival after receiving final documentation from Zdanowski said the Canadian director and her film wouldn’t be welcome after all.
That was followed March 29 by another email from a coordinator for the Forward Future section that confirmed In God I Trust had been caught up in the diplomatic crossfire between governments in China, Canada and the U.S. related to the Dec. 1 arrest in Vancouver of Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Huawei Technologies, at the request of U.S. authorities.
Huawei’s Meng, who is out on bail in Vancouver, faces possible fraud charges in the U.S. for her alleged dealings with American banks if extradited to the U.S.
“We tried many ways to get the film through, but failed. It’s not the film itself that has political problems, it’s going abroad (I’m sure you’ve heard about Huawei). So we are very sorry,” the organizer said, before adding: “We hope that the film will meet Chinese audiences when the environment improves.”
THR has viewed the correspondence between Zdanowski and the Beijing Film Festival organizers.
Officials at the Beijing Film Festival could not be reached for comment on the invitation for In God I Trust being pulled.
“They do not say why, but it’s pretty obvious that they are not receiving a film from Canada at this time,” Zdanowski told THR.
As China-Canada relations get caught up in the geopolitical tensions over the Huawei exec’s extradition proceedings, Beijing authorities earlier detained two Canadians in China on vague national security charges, and suspended some Canadian farm product imports as a part of a campaign of intimidation and retribution.
And Toronto-based apparel maker Canada Goose, whose cozy fur-lined jackets are popular with Hollywood celebs and a luxury status symbol in China, has seen its stock price tumble since the arrest of Huawei’s Meng late last year, and calls on Chinese social media sites for a boycott of the pricey Canadian parkas.
Diplomatic tensions also veered into the film and entertainment arena in 2016 when China targeted Korean K-pop stars over Seoul’s decision to deploy a U.S.-made missile defense system on the Korean peninsula in spite of vocal opposition from Beijing. That was followed by the 2017 Beijing Film Festival choosing no Korean titles in its lineup of around 500 films that year.
In God I Trust, which stars John Cassini, Marc Senior and Steven Roberts, tells the intertwining stories of a young black man, a reckless white nationalist and a pair of traveling vacationers during a random encounter in Northern Idaho.
Other stops on the international festival circuit for the Canadian indie include recent screenings at the Whistler Film Festival and the Omaha Film Festival in Nebraska, an upcoming April 4 screening at the Beverly Hills Film Festival in Los Angeles and then a European premiere at the ÉCU – The European Independent Film Festival on April 7 in Paris.