Friday, April 25, 2014

Festival focuses on China's place in world cinema

The Beijing International Film Festival, which concluded on Wednesday, united directors and industry insiders from home and abroad in discussing China's place in world cinema.

With the domestic film market booming, Hollywood is hungry to tap this emerging potential source of profits, while Chinese filmmakers are desperate to get more exposure for their movies abroad.

"The paradigm is to cooperate with Hollywood and that will make Chinese movies more global," director Alfonso Cuaron told Xinhua.

As the second-biggest film market in the world, China has many facets that allure this Oscar winner. "First, you have many, many audiences that love cinema and that's fantastic. Also, it speaks to the investors who create venues for people to watch cinema. But more important, it speaks for filmmakers who do films that connect with audiences," Cuaron said.

His blockbuster "Gravity," a particular hit in China, follows a stranded U.S. astronaut who finds refuge in the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 and returns to Earth aboard the Chinese spaceship Shenzhou.

"I am very happy that the film made a connection with Chinese audiences." Cuaron said of its Chinese elements.

The popularity of foreign films in China is indicated by statistics from consulting agency Entgroup which show that imported movies' box office almost doubled from 9 billion yuan (1.4 billion U.S.dollars) in 2008 to to 17.69 billion in 2013.

"China will become the world's biggest market, and the fact has prompted many foreign filmmakers to consider whether they can shoot a 'Chinese' film," said Philippe Muyl, a French director, scriptwriter and producer.

The number of foreign titles screened in Chinese cinemas is limited by the country's import quota system for films. That leaves more and more directors coming from abroad to cooperate with Chinese partners, largely on topics about China.

U.S. director Oliver Stone has been invited to be the art director of "Sun Tzu: The Art of War," and French director Jean-Jacques Annaud has filmmed "Wolf Totem" on the vast plateaus of north China's Inner Mongolia. These films are intended for release both at home and abroad.

There is clearly mutual appetite between the Chinese and U.S. film industries. China Film Co, a state-owned film distributor, is making its first investment in Hollywood movies by taking a stake in two Legendary Entertainment productions. And Dreamworks and Chinese media groups are set to open a joint venture animation studio in Shanghai.

During a panel discussion for the festival, Christopher Dodd, CEO of Paramount Pictures, touted the "tremendous partnership between the China and U.S. film industries that continues to grow and blossom."

Chinese movies too commercial?

However, the road to international cooperation in this field is not without obstacles.

Chinese movies have struggled to make an impact when exported. While cinemas across China sold 21.76 billion yuan's worth of tickets in 2013, China-made films took in only 1.41 billion yuan abroad, according to statistics released by State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.

"The movie market in China is growing, but is glutted with entertainment and commercial elements," said Myul when asked about the reasons for these struggles.

True to this comment, the highest-grossing film in China last year was "Lost in Thailand," a locally produced lowbrow, slapstick comedy.

While China has lots of good stories, it has too few directors dedicated to creating quality movies with integrity, according to Myul.

In recent years, new generations of Chinese directors have chased profits in China's cinemas.

"Box office seems to be the sole evaluation criterion for one's work. People feel embarrassed if their movie has not earned one hundred million yuan," said Chinese director Lu Chuan.

Chinese movies are though to be overly emotional, lacking in insight.

"Domestic movies are catching up with Hollywood levels. The point is the large gaps on the choice of theme and expression," said director John Woo, who headed this year's festival jury.

China lacks works concerning social reality, in Woo's view. The flipside is that foreign directors brought in to helm Chinese productions often don't understand local culture.

"Inject typical Chinese spirits while utilizing Western technologies," Woo recommended..

Bollywood director Rajkumar Hirani, a judge at the festival, takes hit drama "Slumdog Millionaire" as an example of a successful marriage between domestic and foreign film industries. "It had a Hollywood director but with Indian content. It was very connected to them, so they will see it."

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