On April 15th, 2019, “Arthouse Film Forum” of the 9th Beijing International Film Festival (BJIFF) was held grandly in Beijing Palace, Beijing Hotel. As one the six major forums of the 9th BJIFF, the forum, themed “Why & How”, invited filmmakers, producers and promoters of art films from both home and abroad. At the forum, they shared their understanding of the connotation of art films and their working experience, exchanged ideas on the current development situation and future development direction of the Chinese art film industry and showed their determination and confidence in art films. As the Chinese film market is becoming more diversified, Chinese art films will definitely have an even brighter future.
Review and outlook on the development of art films
Films are entertainment, commercial activities and also art. Since they were born, as currently the content carrier with the richest sensory experience, films have become artists’ favorite realm to practice. China has never lacked filmmakers who are eager to create art. However, art films had been ignored by the market for many years because they didn’t have box office appeal.
However, as the Chinese film market is growing bigger and Chinese audiences’ film qualities are improving, art films are becoming a more important integral part of the film market. At the 8th BJIFF last year, “Arthouse Film Forum” was only a temporary forum. This year, due to the close attention of the Organizing Committee of the BJIFF, “Arthouse Film Forum” has been upgraded as one of the six major theme forums of the BJIFF.
At 2 p.m. on April 15th, the “Arthouse Film Forum” of the 9th Beijing International Film Festival themed “Why & How” was grandly held at Beijing Palace, Beijing Hotel. Renowned film producers, art film directors, promoters and screening managers from both home and abroad gathered together and discussed the development of Chinese art films.
The leaders and guests present at the forum included Lu Liang, Associate Counsel of the China Film Administration, Chen Mingjie, Deputy Director of the Publicity Department of Beijing Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China & Director of the Beijing Film Administration, Sun Xianghui, Curator of the China Film Archive, Director of the China Film Art Research Center & Head of the National Alliance of Arthouse Cinemas, Huang Qunfei, First Deputy General Manager of Huaxia Film Distribution Co., Ltd., Zhang Xiaoguang, Deputy Curator of the China Film Archive & Director of the China Film Art Research Center and Li Jie, Senior Vice President of Alibaba Pictures, President of Taopiaopiao & General Manager of Youku Pictures. In addition, the forum invited French director Xavier Legrand, American film producer Benjamin O'Brien, and Sidney Ganis, Vice President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
At the beginning of the forum, Director Chen Mingjie gave a speech. He said that art films were becoming more popular among Beijing audiences and art films had a great potential for growth in Beijing. Regarding today’s art films, he put forward three thoughts, namely, how to balance well the social and commercial attributes of art films, how to give play to the proactive role of the government and the market, and how to maintain a good relationship among innovation, entrepreneurship and creation.
Ms. Sun Xianghui, Curator of the China Film Archive, then went up on the platform. She reviewed the establishment and development history of the National Alliance of Arthouse Cinemas.
The National Alliance of Arthouse Cinemas (NAAC) was officially established on October 15th, 2016. For 30 months, the NAAC has shown a total of 80 art films in various forms. The number of cinemas joining the NAAC has increased to 3,222 in 248 cities and the number of screens reaches 3,795. 41 film fan groups active in 28 provinces, cities and autonomous regions across China have provided warm encouragement and support to the development of the NAAC. Bohemian Rhapsody, which is currently shown on the special screens of NAAC, has earned over RMB90 million at the box office. Rome, which won the Golden Lion and the Academy Award for Best Director, will be shown in the NAAC this May.
On art films, Curator Sun quoted the film master Andrei Tarkovsky, “Setting a person in a constantly changing environment, intervening him with numerous others far and near and involving him in the whole world---- that is where the meaning of the film lies.”
Li Jie, Senior Vice President of Alibaba Pictures, President of Taopiaopiao & General Manager of Youku Pictures, released the second theme. Through the big data analysis of the online ticketing platform Taopiaopiao, he showed that Chinese audiences’ intention is becoming more diversified and audiences are becoming younger; and on the other hand, the audiences who love art films are often loyal film ticket buyers and they go to movies more often than ordinary film audiences. Finally he said that Alibaba Pictures is a company with a great sense of mission and is willing to undertake the mission for the development of art films and promote the healthy development of the industry.
Exchanging experience: other countries’ art film development paths
After a relatively long development history in the United States, Europe and Japan, a mature, comprehensive art film industry chain has formed in those markets. At the forum, world-renowned insiders of art films were invited to share their experience.
The new prominent French director Xavier Legrand, whose directorial debut Custody won the awards for Best First Work and Best Director at the 74th Venice International Film Festival, has become a hot new filmmaker in Europe in the past two years. He participated in the BJIFF and shared his observations of the current situation of the French art film industry at “Arthouse Film Forum”.
In his opinion, even in France, art films are also faced with some difficulties in survival. There are now less funds available to art films, while the number of art films distributed is increasing. The two are contradictory to each other. Another predicament faced by art films is cinemas, which are offering diversified choices. Moviegoers don’t necessarily choose art films.
The American independent film producer Benjamin O'Brien talked about his own experience of art film production. He said frankly that in a bid to make good art films, it’s necessary to solve the money problem, and sometimes it’s probably very difficult to balance the relationship between the two. He shared the story of production of two films last year. One of the films is a big-budget film with a strong lineup and was ambitious. However, due to restrictions from multiple sides, they chose to distribute it online. The other one is a small production with a tight budget, but it is currently being pre-sold in cinemas.
As a producer with rich experience, he told all colleagues that what’s the most important is to create a good environment for the team when shooting a film, and as to whether the film will be finally a success, it’s the best to leave it to the people who know how to tell a story well.
Sidney Ganis, Vice President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, can be definitely called a world-class filmmaker. He is gratified to see the current situation in China as it attaches such great importance to art films. He said that art films played a very important role in the global film industry and their influence would not reduce and we would see more and better art films.
Moreover, he shared the film selection and promotion strategies of the Academy Award. He mentioned that young filmmakers were the most passionate and that’s the same around the world. The Oscars have many different branches, and each branch’s committee is responsible for searching excellent filmmakers. They look for not only young filmmakers but more importantly excellent filmmakers, and only excellent filmmakers can finally become their members. He also mentioned that the Oscars have become more inclusive and international and will need more Chinese films in future.
A dialog on creation, focusing on nostalgic native creation
The most eye-catching event at the forum was the dialog salon. The salon was moderated by Zuo Heng, Associate Professor at the China Film Archive and the China Film Art Research Center, and invited four new prominent Chinese art directors, those are, Pema Tseden (representative works Tharlo and Jinpa), Yang Chao (representative work Crosscurrent), Lu Qingyi (representative work Four Springs) and Yang Mingming (representative work Girls Always Happy), who discussed Chinese art films and localized expression.
Pema Tseden’s new film Jinpa won the Best Screenplay Award in the Orizzonti (Horizons) program at the 75th Venice International Film Festival. The film attracted the attention of many film fans because Director Wong Karwai is its executive producer. Mr. Zuo Heng first asked Pema Tseden a question, “To you, what are art films?”
Pema Tseden said frankly that the creation of an art film was probably a process of finding themes and a spiritual tour, and the themes involved were diversified. He also added, “From a certain level, films are my belief.”
Director Yang Chao mainly talked about the meaning of art films, that is, what art films are. He believed that the goal of art films is to explore the boundary of film art and to prove to the world film history that China can find new images and create new culture in films.
Director Pema Tseden expressed his faith and love to films.
Director Yang Chao said in the discussion about performance: “We should have a strong confidence living in front of the camera.
Director Yang Mingming shared her unique way to express emotions.
Director Lu Qingyi Stressed the “Poetry” in Films.
He also held that we should not deem an art film with a poor box office performance unpopular with the audience. Instead, we should regard it as normal. Art films should be neither too proud and deride films of other genres, nor procure sympathy by building a miserable image.
As a young art filmmaker, Yang Mingming shared her story of becoming a director. According to her, the reason why she prefers to art film production lies in that such a thinking way is what she wants. And it is a nature thing for herself.
Among the four guests, Lu Qingyi is the only one who makes documentary films. In early 2019, his film Four Springs based on his family was successfully released and earned wide recognitions. As he mentioned, if you love your life and really enjoy it, you should record it, which is highly important. Because only in this way, you can permanently keep the moments.
As Zuo Heng commented, the four directors showed different styles and perspectives on life in their works. It is their unique perspectives and thinking that bring fresh vitality and distinctive creativity to film art.
Business promotion for freeing our mind in art film publicity
In the second salon, a lot of renowned film marketing and screening managers had a discussion themed “‘Art’ World: An Exploration of the Distribution and Screening Mode of Art Films”. The salon invited Huang Qunfei, First Deputy General Manager of Huaxia Film Distribution Co., Ltd., Jiang Wusheng, Chairman of Beijing United Entertainment Partners Culture & Media Co., Ltd., Cai Gongming, founder and CEO of Road Pictures, Tian Qi, General Manager of Beijing Hero Film Co., Ltd. and CandyAce (Beijing) Film Co., Ltd., Zhang Jin, Chairman and CEO of Beijing Joy Pictures Co., Ltd., and Lin Siwei, Director of the Collection & Arrangement Department of China Film Archive, leader of Beijing Film Panorama and General Coordinator of National Alliance of Arthouse Cinemas.
Huang Qunfei expressed different opinions on the development of National Alliance of Arthouse Cinemas. He thought that the alliance should be streamlined as it has included too many cinemas; the art films should not be too extensive and inclusive like the commercial films; and the ultimate goal of the alliance should be guiding audiences to pay more attention to small mass films. Strictly speaking, the Bohemian Rhapsody recording a high box office is not an art film. It only acted as a powerful tool to publicize the alliance and improve its influence and popularity at the inception.
Jiang Wusheng mainly described his views on the distribution and promotion of art films: 1) It is necessary to pay attention to the schedule for all the films, including the art film; 2) we should keep focusing on the sentiments of current audiences.
In 2018, Cai Gongming was widely praised for the successful introduction of Shoplifters, the winner of Golden Palm of The Festival de Cannes. He pointed out that the art films have a very loyal fan base whom need to be meticulously taken care. If more praise from core audiences is received, the work is done to a great extent. In addition, according to him, since the audience of China are gradually classified, the market has to provide different genres of film, which plays a positive role in the development of literary film market.
Tian Qi mentioned a very simple reason why he chose to get involved in art films – he loves art films and thinks that art films are the best. “Since my engagement in film distribution and promotion, my original intention is to make good and beneficial films as more as possible. When you fight for it, you may also believe all the time and energy are worthwhile." He also said that the distribution and promotion of art films is not as easy as that of commercial films, which require more efforts than the latter.
Zhang Jin also delivered similar viewpoints: If the box office of an art film is overly concerned, the resulting illusions and contrasts in essence are bound to be unacceptable. He also expected to promote the audiences’ recognition on art films and develop their aesthetic habits by diversified means of screening.
Lin Siwei made the conclusion. He believed that the development of art films will take a long time in alignment with the development of market. He also expected to gain the support of all the distribution and promotion companies, industry participants and investors. Only in this way can young directors earn more opportunities and China's art film market enjoy a favorable environment for creation.
The “Arthouse Film Forum” of the 9th Beijing International Film Festival came to a successful end. Upon fierce exchanges and discussions, guests proposed copious useful experience for the development of China's art film market. This event proved the great attention of Chinese filmmakers to art films and indicated the art film market is bound to be the part and parcel of the Chinese film market and plays an integral part in this industry.
In the long way to success, the art film market needs all the hands to move forward despite the difficulties, and we are all confident about its promising future. As inspired by Huang Qunfei on the forum, as long as we keep going and working harder, success will be ours.