Both films are part of the slowly expanding lineup of foreign titles to be handled through the Nationwide Alliance of Arthouse Cinemas. The organization’s objective is to increase the diversity of what plays in Chinese theaters and to educate Chinese audiences.
The NAAC was formed in late 2016 as a public-private partnership involving exhibitors and distributors, as well as China’s National Film Archive. Since launching, it has expanded now to include 600 screens under management nationwide.
“Three Billboards” is exactly the kind of prestige and festival-winning title that the NAAC originally set out to pick up. With four Golden Globes under its belt and a strong shot at picking up further Oscar trophies, it will release in China on March 2. But given the film’s expletive-ridden dialog, cuts by official censors seem a certainty.
No date has yet been announced for “Third Murder,” which is directed Kore-eda Hirokazu (“Nobody Knows,” “Like Father Like Son”). Hirokazu is one of Japan’s most decorated and festival-friendly contemporary directors.
The NAAC uses its ability to license titles either to create bundles of themed exhibitions, or to release individual titles on a nationwide basis. The unusual structure means that it has an additional quota for import of foreign titles. These are in addition to both the revenue-sharing quota slots that are largely taken up by major Hollywood movies, and to the flat-fee releases that are largely the domain of independent films.
In it first nine months, the NAAC’s program of 40 films was unchallenging. It included a mix of classic Italian movies; six documentaries; specialty titles arranged into four festival seasons; and two Chinese art films, “Summer Is Gone,” by Zhang Dalei, and “Absurd Accident.”
“Manchester by the Sea,” from Amazon Studios and Sierra/Affinity, was the first title to be imported for the Alliance circuit. It since added 2015 Brazilian biopic “Nise: The Heart of Madness,” which Strand Releasing handled in the U.S. in April last year. “Nise” got a release in China earlier this month on Jan. 5.