China Independent Film Festival was founded in 2003 in Nanjing. As a non-governmental and non-profitable independent film event, CIFF has been dedicated to independent cinema with the goal of encouraging communication and interaction between independent filmmakers, audience and researchers.
The CIFF organisation is operated by a selection of premiere film critics, scholars, programmers and producers. Based on art institutions and academies, CIFF has been refining its own structure through practice. Since 2007, CIFF has adapted the awarding system of independent film festivals. It set up the 4 dimension of standard including free spirit, open mind, new form and foresight, hoping to present the diversity of Chinese independent cinema with an open gesture.
With 10 years of development, CIFF has become the most important platform for the screening of cutting-edge Chinese films and a show window for talented new directors. Though with certain political and financial restrictions, CIFF is yet to achieve the reputation as “the only true film festival in China” by quite a number of esteemed directors and international festival partners.
CIFF advocates for freedom and originality of filmmaking, and the research of new possibilities for film as a traditional art form. With a keen sense of mission, CIFF filmmakers execute their social responsibilities by making films. Chinese film industry progresses with the bondage of national censorship and takes shape from the ever-growing market. Under this current condition and trend, CIFF chooses films and filmmakers that show the most genuine film spirit, and become a platform for new directors to show their inspirational talent. CIFF is home to many now award-winning Chinese directors, including Golden Bear winner Wang Quan’an (The Waking Of Insects，Tuya’s Marriage), Diao Yinan (Uniform，Black Coal/Thin Ice),69th Venice Horizons Documentary Award winner Wang Bing (Three Sisters, West of the Tracks), 66th Venice Horizons Documentary Award winner Du Haibin (1428), Ying Liang (Taking Father Home, The Other Half), 69th Venice Horizons Documentary Award nominated Li Ruijun (Fly with the Crane), and even the market-favoured director like Ning Hao (Crazy Stone) and Wu Ershan (Painted Skin II).
CIFF’s structure consists of Feature Film Competition, Documentary Competition, Short Film Competition and Special Screening Unit. It is also a significant window for Chinese experimental films and animations. In addition, CIFF organises academic forums to discuss spotlighted topics in Chinese cinema with an insightful interpretation.
CIFF 1 opened in September 2003 at the Red Classic Museum, founded by Ge Yaping, Cao Kai and Zhang Yaxuan. 18 high quality films were selected. Together with the other two independent film festivals in Kunming and Beijing, CIFF was known as one of the three major independent film festivals in China.
CIFF 2 ，opened at Nanjing University of the Arts in December 2004 and lasted for 5 days. 30 films were screened in 2 separate screening locations and a seminar was held for the first time. Zhang Xianmin started to participate in the organization of CIFF and became the academic leader. CIFF survived the first crisis.
CIFF 3 ，opened in April 2006 at the newly build RCM the Museum of Modern Arts. 33 films were screened in 3 screening locations, and the first catalogue was published. CIFF invited more directors to participate in the communication and achieved the basic scale of an independent film festival with non-governmental financing.
CIFF 4 ，opened in May 2007 at the RCM the Museum of Modern Arts. It was the first CIFF held with the standard of independent film festivals. All directors were invited and authorities from areas of film, art and literature were invited to set up a jury to give awards. CIFF 4 set up an intact value system of independent spirit.
CIFF 5 ，opened in September 2008 at the Southeast University and lasted for 7 days. 75 screenings took place in 4 screening locations and daily booklets were available. CIFF 5 indicated that CIFF is getting mature. Results of CIFF award were widely acknowledged, and CIFF became the weather vane of Chinese independent cinema.
CIFF 6 ，opened in October 2009 at the Nanjing Institute of Visual Arts and lasted for 6 days. 58 screenings were held in 5 locations. The premiere of Spring Fever by Lou Ye opened this year’s CIFF and the film won the CIFF Highest Award. CIFF 6 had great value in expanding the scope of this film festival.
CIFF 7 ，was held in October 2010 at the Nanjing University with 52 screenings in 4 locations. In addition, CIFF held two other art exhibitions of photography and video arts, as well as the International Youth Film Summit Forum. CIFF 7 marked CIFF’s attempt to become international.
CIFF 8 ，opened in October 2011. Screening took place in 6 locations simultaneously and made CIFF 8 the one with the largest scale among the 10 years history of CIFF. The documentary forum held at the same time provoked the Shaman Animal Nanjing Manifesto, which became a milestone in the history of Chinese independent cinema.
CIFF 9 ，was due to open in November 2012 in Nanjing. Screenings were planned to be hold in 7 standard screening rooms in 3 movie theatres. Asian Experimental Film and Video Art Forum in Nanjing (EXiN 2012) was also well prepared. Unfortunately the whole event was shut down 48 hours before the opening ceremony and CIFF suffered from related impact. In December, a small-scale award ceremony was held in Beijing Caihuoche Bar.
CIFF10, was held in Xiamen, Dalian and Nanjing during October to December 2013. This is the first time that main activities were held outside Nanjing. The voting, award ceremony and closing ceremony were held back in Nanjing. CIFF relieved and a new generation of curating team started to take over the CIFF organization.