With a booming film market at home, many of the younger Chinese indie filmmakers are trying to make films that stand a better chance of being screened in Chinese theaters, in a departure from their older counterparts, whose films have often pushed the envelope for censors.
"The Coffin in the Mountain," an award-winning film noir, grossed a little more than 10 million yuan ($1.57 million) after its release in theaters last month, impressive for a film with a 1.7 million yuan budget and starless cast.
Unlike in Hollywood, where indie films generally refer to productions made mostly or completely without major film studios, many Chinese indie films have political overtones, including overt government criticism, and thus get blocked from local theaters.
But Xin Yukun, the film's 31-year-old director and a fan of Universal Studio's "Jurassic Park" franchise, said he decided early on to make an independent movie for broad Chinese audiences.
The movie also received wide critical recognition. The film, about a murder in a remote village, was picked up by the Venice Film Festival's Critics' Week last year, and later won the Grand Prix at the Warsaw International Film Festival.
Censors did have some requests. Mr. Xin was asked to make a number of changes to the film, including making it clear the bad guys were punished; the original had left it open.
He also changed the film's Chinese title into the "The Maze of the Heart", as he was told by both censors and the film's distributors that the word "coffin" in the original title sounds too ominous to Chinese audiences.
Another film by a young indie filmmaker that recently opened in Chinese cinemas is "My Original Dream", about a boy's first love. Hao Jie, the film's 34-year-old director and screenwriter, gained fame by his award-winning directing debut "Single Man" (2010), which deals with sexual repression among single elderly men in the village where Mr. Hao was born.
The film finally got approval to screen nationwide on China's Singles' Day last week, and has raked in over 12 million yuan so far.
Productions of China's senior indie masters, or the so-called "Sixth Generation" of Chinese filmmakers, usually zoom in on the dark side of China's economic boom. Jia Zhangke, the acclaimed Chinese director, has only managed to get three of a dozen of his films to screen in China over the past decade. However, an increasing number of recent indie films by young filmmakers are getting nods from the country's censors, focusing increasingly on personal-life or family issues.
"Instead of snarling at the dark side of society, we find young directors prefer to discuss inner self and self-growth with a mild touch in their films in the past two years," said Wang Fei, a member of selection committee of FIRST International Film Festival, which is based in Xining, the capital western Qinghai province.