For cineastes and film students in China, one of the treats at the upcoming Shanghai Film Festival will be the mainland China debut of 10 films by Alfred Hitchcock. Suspense films used to be a no-no in China, so the Hitch riches will be welcomed by local film fans.
Likewise, Chinese restrictions on imported movies, which effectively limit foreign product to around 20 pics per year, left little room for auteurs like Ingmar Bergman and Eric Roehmer amid the focus on blockbusters.
China’s arthouse fare is largely homegrown, and strict censorship meant that frank treatment of sex or occasional violent imagery in some imported niche offerings would not even have made it through today’s limitations.
But film students in China echo their cousins in Berlin and Los Angeles in their appetites for a wide array of films, so they’re getting their fix via fests and pirated DVDs.
“I like Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman the most,” says Zhang Mingyi, 23, a film production major at the Communications U. of China. “Their works are quite special, and are full of meaning about human nature.”
Zhang is lucky to be studying now. Back in the days before China started to open up, some three decades ago, cinema was consisted solely of propaganda pics. Once the borders became more fluid, China’s helmers started to lap up the work of artists from abroad, but the supply was limited.
Now China’s rampant piracy problem has turned into a boon for cinephiles. At the bottom rack in most pirate DVD stores — and there are very few of any other kind in China — buyers can find “North by Northwest” and “Rope” in abundance, as well as more esoteric works by European directors.
Comprehensive box sets of helmers from Pedro Almodovar to Wim Wenders now abound — including films hard to find even in DVD stores of the West, like Wenders’ “The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty.”
And indie filmmakers are also finding fans.Gong Yingjie, a 25-year-old graduate of the School of Cinema and Television at the Communication U. of China, is a fan of Lars von Trier — “Dancer in the Dark” is his favorite, as well Michelangelo Antonioni, and the work of Belgian directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.
“I prefer art films to commercial films, because all commercial films in my eyes use the same pattern, and they always have fixed result and meaning. But art films are really interesting, with various themes and deep meaning,” says Gong, sounding to all intents and purposes like a film school grad of USC or Columbia.
And all this wisdom without the benefit of the bigscreen on which to watch his heroes.