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Shanghai Festival Forum: Chinese Film Seeks to Raise Professional Standards

shanghai skyline China Placeholder
Yang Wei Chen/Shutterstock

Greater professionalism within the Chinese film industry could lead to higher standards and greater overseas success. That was the unsurprising conclusion of the “Global Film Industry Value Chain Forum” held in Shanghai on Saturday on the eve of the city’s showcase annual film festival.

Speakers from China, the U.S., and Europe identified a need for improvement in screenwriting, production skills, and understanding of international markets as factors that could help Chinese movies to make a global breakthrough.

Ever the optimist, industry financier Bennett Pozil of EastWest Bank predicted: “In the next 12-18 months there will be a Chinese movie that has global pull. Chinese films are going to find their voice internationally,” though his reasoning was external to China and predicated on the growing importance of streaming and the consolidation of Hollywood studios.

“Disruption in the U.S. is good for Chinese films. P&A (print and advertising costs) are used as a barrier to entry to the U.S. market — $40 million is needed just to get you to the table,” said Pozil, suggesting that streaming firms can distribute Chinese films to worldwide audiences at a fraction of the cost.

China’s co-production supremo was less gung ho. “We’ve witnessed a surge in co-productions (between China) and the U.S. and with Europe. The box office (in China) for American films has been strong, that’s why U.S. productions are coming to China,” said Miao Xiaotian, president of China Film Co-production Corporation. “But success stories among co-productions are not that common. That’s down to cultural differences, and lack of knowledge of each other’s markets. Most of the co-productions that have succeeded are Chinese stories, and they have not done well overseas.”

The forum, presented by the Shanghai International Film Festival, Jiao Tong University, the Motion Picture Association and Winston Baker, was otherwise largely toothless and scrupulously avoided any controversies.

At no point was the U.S.-China trade war discussed. Nor was China’s 2018 change of film industry regulator, or Friday’s abrupt cancellation of the festival’s opening night film – despite a welcome speech by SIFF president Fu Wenxia. And no questions were taken from the audience.

The closest to a discussion of China’s abrupt film production slowdown since mid-2018 came from Shanghai Film Group boss, Ren Zhonglun. “Last year the film industry slowed down. As a result, it has become more rational, and calm. I hope that we are now pursuing a Chinese path, rather than remaining obsessed with overtaking the U.S.,” Ren said.

“We can be #1 in terms of volume, but we need to professionalize and accelerate the process of industrialization. We need to be humble and ready to learn,” said Chen Xugang, an academic from Beijing University.

“In the West film-making tasks are clearly defined. But Chinese studios are all over the place, everyone is multi-tasking,” said Bona Film Group’s Jiang Defu. “We need to specialize and focus on own strengths.”

Others focused their remarks on China’s unique characteristics. “The Hollywood studio system is an obsolete model for China,” said Perfect Village CEO Ellen Eliasoph. “China is fast-moving, and is digitized.”

“We are building a different ecosystem, based on multi-screen integration. (Movie producers) have good relations with streaming platforms. The speed of development brought us together,” said Jerry Ye, CEO of Huayi Brothers Pictures.