‘Black Coal’ Makes Mark Before Tribeca Outing

Art-house thriller falls between genres in native China

Black Coal Thin Ice Film Review-Belin

BEIJING – China’s Berlin Golden Bear winner “Black Coal, Thin Ice” has passed the symbolic RMB100 million ($16.2 million) landmark just three days ahead of its outing this week at the TriBeCa Film Festival.

The box office total, reached after 24 days on release, gives the film a commercial respectability that was far from obvious when it was launched.

China scarcely has an art-house circuit, though its commercial sector is booming to the point where some are beginning to worry about the bubble bursting. “Black Coal, Thin Ice,” directed by Diao Yinan, sits uneasily as an art-house form of thriller.

“The ‘bubble’ is a production bubble and it doesn’t affect our company,” said Dan Victor, principal of Boneyard Entertainment China, the U.S.-Chinese firm that backed “Black Coal” and which is looking at a slate of other Chines titles.

“It means that, just like in the U.S., the challenge isn’t making a movie. That has become easier and easier with new technology. The challenge is making a good movie and then getting your movie into theaters.

“In China, this is a bigger problem than the U.S. because a) there are fewer theaters; and b) there is no ancillary revenue so if it doesn’t get into theaters (and stay in theaters) you’re out of luck. What anyone will tell you who knows what they’re talking about is if you make top quality films, you will find distribution. But, from a responsible business standpoint you can’t rely on that.”

Victor’s answer to that is to work with a bigger Chinese partner, Jiangsu Omnijoi, which is the content spin-off from regional Jiangsu Broadcasting Corp.

“Having a partnership with a strong company with the ability to distribute and exhibit means that we can protect our downside. I think ‘BCTI’ is only the first glimpse of the potential of the BEC/Jiangsu Omnijoi relationship. I’m proud of the film, but it is also only the beginning,” said Victor.

If the genre is new by Chinese standards, foreign distributors have had less problem.

At the recent FilMart, sales agent, Fortissimo Films sold an all rights deal for Hong Kong/Macau to Edko, which will see the film released in HK in early May, a deal for Poland with Aurora Film, for Mexico with Alfhaville Cinema, for Portugal with Alambique Films, and with HBO for the Latin American regional Pay TV release in late 2015. Deals struck in Berlin included one with Memento Films Distribution for all rights in France, Megacom Films for Former Yugoslavia, Bulgarian Film Vision for Bulgaria and Irib for Iran.