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China to Launch Art House Film Circuit

China is to get its first circuit of cinemas specializing in the exhibition of art-house films. The long-awaited move involves a coalition of public and private companies.

It was announced officially this week. And will see its first release handled in November.

“We have 100 cinemas that are already part of the network with 400 more being added,” auteur director Jia Zhangke told Variety. Jia’s newly launched Fabula Entertainment is part of the network, which is formally headed by China Film Archive.

The other members include Huaxia Film Distribution, Wanda Cinemas, Broadway Cinematheque, Lumiere Pavilions, and online ticketing firm Beijing Weying Technology, giving it an initial footprint in 31 towns and cities. French mini-conglomerate MK2 which has partnered with Jia on his recent movies and has a co-production agreement with Fabula, is also a partner in the network.

CFA is expected to curate a series of thematic strands, but each cinema is free to choose its own program within that. Each cinema is committed to screening three art-house films per day in at least ten prime time slots per week.

There is expected to be an accent on premium and award-winning titles. That emphasis is understood to be part of the reason that the circuit may be able to show films that are not imported as part of the commercially-driven, revenue-sharing quotas and then released by the state-owned distributors China Film Corp and Huaxia.

The mechanism for import is unclear and at least one report says that CFA will be able to offer both revenue-sharing and flat fee terms to rights owners. All films will have to pass China’s censorship system.

“This is a very important initiative,” said Isabelle Glachant, an Asia-based film producer and seller and operator of Asian Shadows. “Maybe we will now get to see films by Woody Allen, Pedro Almodovar Ken Loach and the Dardennes brothers in China.”

Jia is also seeking to open up China’s video sector to auteur content. In May, he launched online video destination Jia Screen in partnership with the Hong Kong International Film Festival and Taiwanese distributor Joint Pictures. It will focus on short films made by first or second time directors.

The service was supposed to launch in June, but Jia and his team are curating the selection carefully, resulting in only 20 titles being secured so far. Jia now anticipates that the platform will go live by December.

“Jia Screen is not just for Chinese young directors,” Jia said. “We also want to introduce international filmmakers to Chinese audiences. It is a bilateral communication.”

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