Despite Strong Showing At Busan Film Fest, Long Road Ahead For Chinese Indies

Filmmakers Have No Choice But To Work With Overseas Sales Companies

Zhang Yuan's "Beijing Flickers" also showed at the Toronto International Film Festival

Independent Chinese filmmakers are out in force at the ongoing Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), with directors such as Zhang YuanWang Ping, Lou Ye and Emily Tang taking part, yet the strong presence of this growing contingent belies many of the challenges that lie ahead for independent Chinese cinema and its prospects abroad. As the Hollywood Reporter notes today, most — if not all — independent Chinese directors are currently reliant on international, rather than domestic, sales companies to take their work to a global stage. From the Reporter:

In mainland China, [Beijing-based French producer Isabelle] Glachant said, the norm – in the mainstream, at least – is for vertically integrated companies to handle production, distribution and sales, as well as agents of actors.

“It totally makes sense for Bona or Huayi, but outside of those top five companies, when you’re outside their slots, what can you do? The ones who do best in selling arthouse films are Europeans, the exception being [Hong Kong’s] Fortissimo and [South Korea’s] Finecut.”

Indeed, Fortissimo is attending to Zhang’s Beijing Flickers, Wang’s An End to Killing (which counts among its co-producers Japan’s Satoru Iseki and Korea’s Jooick Lee) and Zhang Yang’s Full Circle, despite its financing by China Film Group. Another Hong Kong-based outfit, PAD International, is marketing Tang’s All ApologiesPeng Tao’s The Cremator and Li Ruijun’s Fly with the Crane. France’s Wild Bunch, meanwhile, is pushing Lou’s Mystery.

As Glachant added, depending on foreign sales companies isn’t the only weak point in the current independent film landscape in China. What indie filmmakers need the most, in Glachant’s view, is advice in how to tailor scripts and edit films to better appeal to global audiences. As Glachant told the Hollywood Reporter, “It’s fine to make a Chinese film, but you have to be careful that it’s the way cinema [language] is used outside China. It’s a problem if foreign audiences don’t get into the emotion of the film.”

Though their work continues to hit the international stage via film festivals and, occasionally, in limited releases, indie filmmakers in China still struggle to gain acceptance and audiences at home, often owing to a dearth of smaller art-house movie theaters in the country. While die-hard movie lovers and film students head to Beijing’s three independent film venues — BC MOMA, CFA and UCCA –on a regular basis, some worry that broader indifference among the Beijing movie-going audience, the popularity of online video, and the difficulty in procuring a steady supply of quality films will keep the Chinese capital woefully underserved by independent film in the years ahead.


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