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Cannes: Vis a Vis Program Showcases China’s Arrival in Global Cinema

A tribute to cinematographer Chris Doyle on Friday night in Cannes will bring to a close the first edition of China Vis a Vis. A new Chinese cultural outreach program, it has run the duration of the Cannes Film Festival.

Doyle, an Australian former sailor who has been based in Hong Kong for decades and was the close collaborator of Wong Kar-wai on many films, is a clever choice for Vis a Vis. As well as being an iconic director of photography with credits that include Wong’s “In the Mood for Love” and Zhang Yimou’s “Hero,” Doyle is a gifted, idiosyncratic artist who also puts on art installations and photographic shows, and is an occasional movie director himself.

Doyle directed “Hong Kong Trilogy,” a film set within Occupy Central, the failed 2014 Hong Kong pro-democracy movement which collapsed under pressure from the mainland Chinese government. But Vis a Vis organizers – ticketing firm Weying Technology, publisher Movie View, and the Wu Tianming Film Fund – are prepared to overlook such issues in pursuit of inclusiveness and of presenting a welcoming face for China’s cinematic projection of soft power.

Further examples of such multinational involvement have peppered the week. They range from Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s participation in a masterclass alongside Wong and Doyle to an international jury that will award prizes Friday to emerging directors in the China New Force panorama. There was even a friendly Europe-China soccer match on Wednesday.

The core of the program has been a series of presentations, panel discussions, and meetings that aim to shed light on the current evolution of the Chinese film industry.

The industry has undergone enormous upheaval over the past two decades, with a state-dominated production system replaced by a largely private one, theatrical box office growth that has transformed China from commercial cinema backwater to the world’s second-largest market (behind only North America), and some serious analysis of arthouse cinema, storytelling skills, and the degree of cooperation with Hollywood and European film industries.

Seminars topics have included distribution of new directors’ films, the usefulness of co-production, and film criticism. Other sessions have touched on literary adaptations, how to write screenplays for fantasy films, and the history of the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight section.

Executives individually introduced to Cannes attendees have included Allen Zhu of CDH Investment Management, Qiu Jie of Leomus Pictures, Jiang Wei of Gravity Pictures, and Huayi Bros.’ Jerry Ye.

On top of the meetings and the screenings is a project-pitching series, with six early-stage movies at the low-budget and arthouse end of the scale. According to sources close to the event, at least one is likely to be picked up and fully funded by Wanda Pictures.

The Friday finale – discussion, awards, gala dinner – is typically Cannes. It underlines just how far the Chinese cinema industry has come in just a few years, and points to a new normal where China is as much an integral part of the scene as Hollywood, France, or Italy.

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