This short article sketches the sphere of alternative film exhibition culture in the PRC along the axes of grassroots film clubs and independent film festivals. I trace how the meaning of ‘alternative’ has shifted over the past three decades due to the changing socio-political environment. This article examines how these two ostensibly different forms of alternative film exhibition teetered along the line between the public and private spheres, between independent and legitimate (film) culture. In the second half of the article, I look into the new strategies pursued by film clubs and film festivals in post-2017 China. I argue that these two modes both erode their grassroots/independent aspirations, while feeding into a position of negotiating a new alternative narrative of de-politicised pluralism and economic efficacy.