Director Jia Zhangke , fresh off his recent collaboration with Johnnie Walker for its second "Yulu" campaign and hard at work on his first big-budget picture, "In the Qing Dynasty," is set to add another title to his impressive resume: arthouse theater owner. According to the Beijing News, Jia said this week that his new theater -- which will likely be located in eastern Beijing -- is still being designed, and will open next year at the earliest.
The novelty of an arthouse theater in Beijing, and the difficulties that Jia will definitely encounter in turning a profit, isn't lost on the filmmaker. As Jia put it, "In a worst-case scenario, I will use money made elsewhere to compensate for the theater's losses."
On his Weibo page, Jia added that the theater will be a small single-room cinema with only around 100 seats." Following his announcement, other filmmakers active on Weibo reacted excitedly, with Wang Xiaoshuai -- currently promoting his newest film, "11 Flowers," writing, "Mr. Jia is awesome! I've been thinking about doing something like this for such a long time but failed to implement such a vision." Another Weibo user commented that Jia's involvement in the independent theater business would be a "breakthrough" for arthouse film in China.
Beijing currently has only a handful of venues specializing in or showing independent film, among them the Broadway Cinematheque, the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) and China Film Archive.
Having worked so long on the edges of -- then, more recently, within -- China's red tape-laden film industry, Jia is better placed than most aspiring theater owners to navigate the inevitable obstacles that are sure to pop up. As Jia noted this week, perhaps the biggest challenge facing his future theater is a dearth of officially approved independent films, particularly those from overseas. As Jia put it, "I'd like to import more films like Iran's 'A Separation' if import quotas could be relaxed."
Though Beijing is very slowly loosening its grip on the country's notoriously low film import quota, art films and independent features will likely be the last to benefit, as the film quota increase announced last month in Washington extended primarily to imported IMAX and 3-D features.