Students at a cutting-edge independent film school in Beijing were recently hauled aboard buses and ordered back to their hometowns, in what is believed to be part of a wider crackdown on independent film festivals and filmmakers, sources at the school said.
"This year, there was a sudden crackdown on the day the students enrolled for class," an employee at the Li Xianting Film School said in an interview.
"They forced the students to get onto on buses and took them to a guest-house under their control, and then they sent them back [to their hometowns]," said the employee, who gave only her surname, Fan.
She said the school, which is funded by the Li Xianting Film Foundation along with the Beijing Independent Film Festival (BIFF), was no stranger to harassment from the authorities.
"They have always put obstacles in the way of our film festival," Fan said. "It runs into trouble every year... But not actually the film school [until now]."
She said the students had refused to promise the authorities to return home and that the film school would continue in a secret location to avoid further official harassment.
Hotbed of talent
The BIFF and the school are hotbeds of fresh documentary talent intent on filming topics and stories that the authorities would rather didn't reach the public domain.
The BIFF was aborted last year after the power supply to the venue was cut half an hour after it opened.
And the Yunnan Multicultural Visual Festival, which showcases some of China's most influential and cutting-edge documentaries, was forced to cancel a public screening in March.
Fan said the authorities had already put pressure on the school not to run the BIFF this year.
"Our students have come from all over, from Hong Kong, from Henan, even Japan, and it wasn't easy for them to make it here, but they [did because] they are all passionate about film."
"They are also passionate about pursuing their own inner voice and actually doing something [in the world]," she said.
The Li Xianting Film School said it offers "a free spirit, independent thought, and practical know-how" to students.
Former students of the school, which is in its ninth year, protested the raid on Twitter-like services, posting photos of their own body parts inscribed with the film school's name in a show of support.
Fan said the venue and the dates for the school's sessions and this year's BIFF would be kept secret.
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.