You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Educational Exchanges at Leading Film Schools Close Cultural Gaps

While U.S. and Chinese studios attempt to uncover the formula for cracking each other’s markets, a number of colleges and universities have begun an educational exchange in which American and Chinese film students become immersed in an array of disciplines from each other’s film industries, from technology and storytelling to law, ethics and communication.

The long-term goal of such programs is to not only foster what Robert Bassett, dean of Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, describes as “an amalgam of Chinese and Western storytelling that’s satisfying to both cultures,” but also a stronger connection between both countries and cultures.

According to Forbes.com, China’s box office revenues in 2016 totaled nearly $6.6 billion, placing it second only to the United States in terms of ticket sales and number of theaters (an estimated 39,000). Should China continue these modest gains, says Michael Ellis, Motion Picture Assn. of America’s Asia-Pacific president, it will overtake the United States as the world’s largest film market by 2019.

Such figures have naturally spawned a mutual interest between the U.S. and China in exploring and, in some cases, profiting from each other’s markets.

Anthropologist, filmmaker and recent Guggenheim Fellow J.P. Sniadecki, who has worked extensively in Chinese indepedent film, says “Hollywood wants to tap into the Chinese market, and China wants to do the same, but also create a product that translates [to international audiences]. Both are sort of lost in translation.”

Film schools including at Loyola Marymount University and Chapman have established formal partnerships with educational academies in China. LMU hosts two undergraduates with the Beijing Film Academy, and will host two of its graduate film students in fall 2018 in the hopes of developing a program where 15 to 20 Film Academy students would study at LMU during the summer. Chapman also hosts grad students from the Beijing Academy, and launched a program in Shenzhen, China, with 15 students from across the country.

Both USC and Pepperdine University also host Chinese students in their student bodies. They have found ways to immerse both “domestic” and international students alike in programs and workshops that help to forge greater collaboration and understanding between cultures in the context of film.
“If we are going to have a diverse industry and work in markets like China, we need to understand them and they need to understand us,” says Elizabeth M. Daley, dean of the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts.

In the case of Pepperdine’s Institute for Entertainment, Media and Culture, students are given what executive director John Mooney calls “a rich, multi-disciplinary review of entertainment and media across the domains of the creative side, the law side and the business side” by allowing them to have access to the university’s Graziadio School of Business and Seaver College’s liberal arts program.

“The reality today for students in entertainment and media is that the products and creative elements have to be developed for a global market,” Mooney says. “They have to have a global mindset, and an understanding of global culture and global markets, if they’re going to be truly successful in this industry.”

Northwestern University in Illinois is also exploring formal media arts exchange programs between Chinese and American students through faculty members Sniadecki and the Horton Foote Prize-winning playwright and screenwriter Zayd Dohrn, both of whom have extensive experience with the Chinese film industry. Both are keenly aware of the importance of forging relationships between the U.S. and Chinese film markets, but also understand that a number of obstacles stand in the way of such collaborative efforts.

“That includes language and culture and geographic distance, and then politically, there’s the obstacle of the limitation of the market there, and the limitation of speech,” says Dohrn. “But I think that people here don’t realize how much amazing work is happening there, despite those obstacles. There’s a sense that there’s a film quota and you’re not allowed to criticize the government, and therefore, nothing interesting could happen. But on the contrary, young filmmakers can do amazing things, even within those restrictions.”

Chinese students coming to study in America face their own specific hurdles.

LMU dean Stephen Ujlaki, who served as the inaugural speaker at the Communication University of China’s Global Vision lecture series, says “There is a concern on the part of the Chinese government, or the people in charge of the schools there, that they perceive there is a secret sauce that they don’t have, and which they refer to as Western storytelling. They think that the more the students learn this, the better off they will be.”

When speaking at the CUC, Ujlaki noted that the Hollywood model “has been in decline creatively for years. Stick to your roots and it’ll eventually work out for you.”

The students loved hearing that, he says, because the Chinese government wants them to make multimillion-dollar blockbusters, and they are interested in developing a creative vision.
“We’re not interested in imposing our culture perspective on them, but we are happy to share our tools,” Daley says.

“There has to be an openness to engagement, it can’t be a one-way street,” adds Dohrn. “Hollywood has an impulse to say it’s an open market, and how can they exploit that market, instead of realizing that within the next five years, we’ll be consuming Chinese films in increasingly large quantities. It’s going to be a rival to the American film industry that we have to take seriously”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Emma Stone Variety Actors on Actors

    First Look at Emma Stone in Disney's Live-Action 'Cruella' Drops

    Emma Stone’s Cruella de Vil is significantly more punk rock than her animated counterpart. Stone appeared via video message to debut the first look of the titular character in Disney’s “Cruella” at D23 on Saturday, also revealing that it will take place in the punk rock era of the 1970s. In the first photo, Stone [...]

  • ‘Mulan’ Star Skips D23 Press Amid

    'Mulan' Star Crystal Yifei Liu Skips D23 Amid International Controversy

    Crystal Yifei Liu, the star of Disney’s live action remake of “Mulan,” skipped the press line and Disney panel at Disney’s D23 expo Saturday in the heat of the #BoycottMulan controversy. Unlike the other portions of the Saturday Disney panel, which featured both stars and directors for the other films presented, the “Mulan” panel was [...]

  • Marvel Stars Want Tom Holland's Spider-Man

    Marvel Stars Want to Keep Tom Holland's Spider-Man in the MCU

    Marvel fans aren’t the only ones heartbroken that Tom Holland’s Spider-Man might not be in the Marvel Cinematic Universe anymore. “It really is sad. First off, he’s the greatest Spider-Man to me. He actually has that youthful energy,” Elizabeth Olsen, who plays Scarlet Witch in the MCU, told Variety at D23 on Friday. “He’s been [...]

  • Kit Harington

    'Game of Thrones' Star Kit Harington Joins 'The Eternals'

    Jon Snow is leaving the North. “Game of Thrones” star Kit Harington is joining the cast of “The Eternals” as Dane Whitman, also known as the Black Knight, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige announced Saturday on the main stage at D23. Feige also confirmed Gemma Chan’s appearance in the film as Sersi, another member of [...]

  • Marvel Studios' BLACK PANTHER..T'Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick

    'Black Panther' Sequel Set for 2022 Release

    “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler announced the release date of the much-anticipated follow-up film at D23 in Anaheim, Calif. Saturday. “Black Panther 2” will hit theaters May 6, 2022. “We’re not taking our time, we’re really trying to get it right,” Coogler said of the production schedule. Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige said Coogler has [...]

  • Carrie Fisher

    'Star Wars': J.J. Abrams Says Carrie Fisher Is 'the Heart of' 'Rise of Skywalker'

    Director J.J. Abrams spoke at length about Carrie Fisher during D23’s Walt Disney Studios panel on Saturday, saying that the late Princess Leia actress is “the heart of” the final installment in the Skywalker saga. “The character of Leia is really, in a way, the heart of this story,” Abrams said. “We realized we could [...]

  • Inhabited

    ‘Inhabited,’ ‘Sisters,’ ‘Aracne’ Stand Out at Sanfic Industria Prize Gala

    Friday night saw Sanfic Industria close out a week of co-production meetings, screenings and tutoring with an awards ceremony where a handful of the 34 projects and six works in progress at this year’s 6th edition were recognized. In addition to the awards ceremony, Friday night’s festivities included a 10th anniversary party for the partnership between CinemaChile [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content