Chinese politics has played a big hand in the withdrawal of two features and a short from the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) just days before it opens.

The films are Zhao Liang’s Chinese-French documentary Petition - The Court Of The Complainants, about the injustices perpetuated by China’s bureaucracy, Emily Tang’s Hong Kong drama Perfect Life, and the short film Cry Me A River.

The trouble began last week when a Chinese consular official tried to pressure MIFF executive director Richard Moore into withdrawing an Australian documentary, The 10 Conditions Of Love, about Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer.

Moore stood by the documentary but this caused the Hong Kong producer of both Perfect Life and Cry Me A River, Chow Keung, to withdraw both productions. Tang’s visit was also cancelled. About the same time MIFF organisers received the news that they no longer had access to Petition.

A film about Chinese beatboxers, yb box, part of a programme of short documentaries, is still set to screen.

In the last week, Australia has been putting pressure on the Chinese government over the arrest without charge of Stern Hu, a Shanghai-based executive for Australian mining giant Rio Tinto. Whether this relates to Melbourne’s cinematic storm in a teacup is unknown.

To fill the holes created by the withdrawals, MIFF has secured Sam Mendes’s Away We Go, Marco Bechis’s Birdwatchers, which was nominated for a Golden Lion, Philipp Stölzl’s North Face, and Doug Pray’s Art & Copy.

Another film listed in the programme but not being seen is Ken Loach’s Looking For Eric. It was withdrawn in response to a call by Palestine to boycott events supported by Israel.

MIFF said that the sponsorship it gets from the State of Israel – like that it gets from the British Council, the Goethe Institute, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and so on – is provided free of conditions. The Sydney Film Festival opened with Looking For Eric earlier this year.

MIFF opens on Friday with local director Robert Connolly’s Balibo, a dramatised look back at the massacre of five media men who were covering Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor for Australian television networks in 1975.