Criticism is healthy for film industry

By Pang Li
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, February 12, 2010
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A special edition of "10th Screening Room," a film review program, will be absent from CCTV-10 during the Spring Festival, which starts Feb. 14, according to a blog post by Long Bin.

Long, who provides voiceover for the program, said CCTV cut the episode because censors thought it was too harsh on Chinese movies. He said they had almost finished the program when they were notified of the decision. Long quoted one censor as saying, "If the movies are so bad, why do you choose to review them? Why can't you choose some good ones to review?" Movies that are released to the public must be ready for criticism, Long said.

Because China protects its film industry, most movies shown in the country are domestic productions. Moviegoers, who are mostly young people, have to pay for incredibly expensive tickets that are disproportionate to their salaries. But the movies are not usually worth the money. "How can CCTV, as top-level media, show these moviegoers the right direction in appreciating cinema if it keeps singing praises for low-quality domestic productions?" Long asked on his blog. "Is it a right thing for CCTV to applaud all the time?"

In fact, the question here is why we cannot criticize. Is it because Chinese filmmakers are too sensitive? Or is it because the Chinese film industry is expanding too fast and thus nobody, especially CCTV, will say anything negative about it?

The Chinese film industry had a good year in 2009. China now has some 5,000 screens and about 800 3-D screens, only second behind the U.S. China saw box office revenues reach a staggering 6.3 billion yuan (US$922.27 million), the highest amount ever recorded.

But the movie market is still rather isolated. Only 20 foreign movies are allowed to show in the mainland each year, and they are rarely among the best works of the year. As a result, domestic productions do not have strong competitors, so people have almost no other choices. Therefore, box office figures do not mean Chinese filmmakers are making good and popular movies. Instead, they are a product of inflated ticket prices and fewer choices in theaters.

Even some Chinese directors have lost hope in Chinese cinema. Li Yu, director of the Berlin Film Festival's nominated film Apple, told China Daily, "I don't think Chinese directors should complain [about censorship]. Even without censorship, I feel that some directors are unable to create excellent movies, such as the Hollywood epic Avatar, because they have already forgotten how to tell a good story."

Under these circumstances, how can we improve cinematic quality? Shunning criticism is not productive. Chinese filmmakers have to face reality. They should know clearly the vital flaws in works and the kinds of movies moviegoers want to see. Reviews are the only way moviegoers can send proper messages to filmmakers. As China's most authoritative media, CCTV should not avoid its responsibility to communicate them. Its absurd censorship is backpedaling and a great disappointment. It will not help the Chinese film industry grow, but instead encourage incompetent filmmakers to stay the way they are. In the long run, Chinese cinema will stagnate.

At the same time, China should really think about how to let the market work with its invisible hands as the film industry matures. Filmmakers and studios can keep feeding the market with lousy works and still make big money because of the absence of proper competition and strong protectionism. China should seriously consider how to incorporate its film industry into the world movie market.

When Hollywood director James Cameron came to Beijing last December to promote Avatar, he said opening the door to other [foreign] filmmakers will help to raise China's film industry because good films that do well at the box office help to raise the quality of other films. The higher quality will improve the box office overall and expand the entire movie business.

"They will get people excited," Cameron said. "There will be more screens, more cinemas, more excitement about the cinema-going experience, which will also raise Chinese filmmakers' ability to play their films within the country."

This is a nice suggestion for China to think about. China should foster the growth of its film industry in a healthy and proper way. A mature market can only keep expanding if lousy players who keep making low-quality movies are eliminated. Filmmakers will be motivated by nice box office revenues and offer better movies. This way, audiences will be greatly pleased.

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