Belt and Road Initiative boosts China's film coproductions with rest of the world

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and film has become a new channel for countries alongside the two routes to communicate and cooperate.  

Thirty-one film festival institutions from 29 countries formed an alliance to promote exchanges in film screening and production in June during the 21th Shanghai International Film Festival.

The move was made to integrate a huge film market. China, Russia, South Korea, India, Thailand, Iran and five other BRI countries complete more than 5,000 films a year. They have more than 70,000 screens with a box office of $14 billion, accounting for over 35 percent of the global box office, according to a white paper issued by the Chinese Academy of Social Science.

The Shanghai festival also held a "Belt and Road Week" to showcase films from 25 countries, an upgrade from a similar activity in 2016.

Liang Junjian, a documentary director and professor at Tsinghua University with an expertise in visual media, hailed the increasing exchanges as a banquet for audiences to see films from BRI countries that are "artistic but receive less attention."

Liang was at the "Belt and Road Week" this summer in Shanghai where Chinese audiences expressed great enthusiasm for 3 Story, a realistic Indian film, and fiercely debated over Killing Jesus, a Columbian film that used handheld photography to create a depressing atmosphere.

In addition to bringing in great films from other countries, Chinese films are attracting global viewers by visiting foreign festivals. The overseas box office and sales revenue of Chinese films reached 4.25 billion yuan ($614 million) in 2017, up 11.2 percent from the previous year, the Xinhua News Agency reported. Chinese films are being screened in overseas film festivals in countries like Austria and Russia.

Communication in screening not only satisfies filmgoers, but also inspires filmmakers to create works with diverse perspectives and intercultural attraction, Liang said, adding that film exchanges facilitate mutual understanding and vice versa.

But analysts noted such exchanges are not always smooth if filmmakers ignore the differences between countries and films convey messages that may offend overseas audiences.

Chinese film Wolf Warrior 2 is the champion in overseas box office, but "preparation for the third episode is currently halted, fearing the series is promoting power politics too much," a Beijing-based industry insider who required anonymity told the Global Times.

"Film is part of the national image, and must be carefully handled," she said.

Wolf Warrior 2 tells a story of a former Chinese special forces operative, in the middle of an African revolution, bringing his military skills to the continent to track down the terrorists liable for the presumed death of his lover.

Barriers to further cooperation also reside in economic benefits, as investors will not be interested "unless success at the box office of a film can be guaranteed," Emily Cheung, film and television program planner for a studio in Beijing, told the Global Times, citing India as an example of stronger ties with China for its mature industry.

Indian films are competitive in Chinese theaters against Hollywood and domestic works, but Tan Zheng, a professor at the Beijing Film Academy, noted that political, especially territorial, disputes have hampered China and India from go deeper into cultural cooperation.

China is the world's second largest film market and India is the biggest filmmaker. If Chinese funds can combine with India's professional production, it will benefit both countries, Tan told the Global Times on Tuesday.

COOPERATION MODELS

Cooperation in film among BRI countries goes beyond screening, as China has been coproducing films with other countries.

A film about a romance between a Chinese painter and a Ukrainian dancer started shooting on October 22 in Luoyang of Central China's Henan Province, which was the starting point of the ancient Silk Road across the continent.

A coproduction between China and Kazakhstan about a deprived Chinese musician seeking help in Alma-Ata in the Soviet's Great Patriotic War will be released in 2020. Museums and monuments are constructed in Alma-Ata to commemorate the musician, composer of the Yellow River Cantata.

Filmmakers of coproductions works should bear in mind that people going to theaters are looking forward to an art piece of quality, therefore "China-centric and didactic films will not be popular," Liang told the Global Times.

If the story itself is a good one, coproduction will lower the barriers to enter an overseas market with the assistance of cheaper and more efficient distribution chains in that country, Liang said. "It is the way Hollywood adopted to enter China," he noted.

Coproduction also cuts costs of shooting itself since "each country has a division of labor in the film industry. For example Korean pyro technicians, European cameramen, and Chinese special effects teams are less expensive," Liang said.

Cheung pointed out "stable cooperation may lead to better distribution of literary films with a small but loyal audience through online or other channels." Chinese people who have a taste for artistic films from countries like Iran and Italy "have no other choice but rely on pirates at this moment," Cheung said.

Exchanges in film can also boost communication when people become interested in another culture, Tan said, citing the example of comedy Lost in Thailand drawing Chinese tourists into the country.

Editor: 曹家宁