Much more than just a movie event

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Guo Fan, director of The Wandering Earth, shares his insights about China's film industry at the SIFF on June 17. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The ongoing 22nd Shanghai International Film Festival has facilitated greater exchange between the Chinese film sector and those in countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative, according to organizers.

The festival, which is one of the largest celebrations of the Asian film scene, kicked off on Saturday and will conclude on Monday. More than 500 films are being shown in 47 cinemas across the city during the festival.

Since hosting the first Silk Road film exhibition in 2015, the SIFF has been constantly expanding its contact with filmmakers from countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative. Last year, the SIFF founded the Belt and Road Film Festival Alliance and welcomed seven new members this year. The alliance currently comprises 38 festivals and institutions from 33 countries.

"Last year, we also launched the Belt and Road Film Week within the framework of the SIFF to introduce outstanding films from lesser-known and new artists," says Fu Wenxia, executive secretary-general of the organizing committee of the SIFF.

This year, the film week will present eight important films. Meanwhile, the SIFF will for the first time host a salon for film distributors from around the world, projecting outstanding films from countries involved in the BRI.

"Filmmakers participate in the SIFF because we are an international film festival, and they hope to reach international distributors rather than just the Chinese market," says Fu in an interview to China Daily. "Just like when you go to the Cannes festival, you are not only looking at the French film market.

"We have also invited leading international distributors of art films, including many Chinese companies which play an active role in buying art films," Fu adds.

"We have invited them to the distributors' salon and film screening with the hope that they could connect with those responsible for these outstanding films from countries involved in the BRI."

Fu says the organizers were inspired by the success that Lebanese film Capernaum achieved after its screening at the Belt and Road Film Week last year. The film, officially released in China this April, raked in more than 300 million yuan ($43.54 million). Nadine Labaki, the director of the film, says she was surprised at the reception from Chinese audiences.

Hungarian filmmaker Arpad Bogdan, whose film Genesis is among the eight films featured this year, says he managed to secure a Chinese distributor and is looking to draw more attention to his creation through the SIFF.

As China is the second-largest film market in the world, releasing a new film in the country, be it in cinemas or on streaming platforms, would be of great help to the filmmaker, says Fu.

"Because of the massive audience size, even the money made from a video-streaming service would help to cover for a big chunk of the production cost," she notes.

The Belt and Road Film Festival Alliance has also witnessed a growing number of coproductions between China and these countries and regions involved in the BRI. One of them is King of Grapes, an ongoing coproduction between China and Australia about the friendship between two vineyard workers in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region and Australia's Victoria, which joined the initiative last year.

Filmmakers from China and abroad also shared their insights and observations about China's film industry at the SIFF. During a forum related to the establishment of an industrial system in filmmaking, Li Zhan, a partner of Fanink Consulting Co, says China's film industry has entered a phase of steady development. Li's company conducts surveys and data analysis on China's film market.

Li points out that 16 of the most successful films in 2018 accounted for more than half of the box-office volume, which means that small and medium films now face greater competition.

"This trend shows that China's film market is maturing and growing steadily. At the present stage of development, film producers in China should be building a more efficient industrial framework that allows them to access a much wider audience and ultimately retain them," he adds.

Guo Fan, director of The Wandering Earth, the Chinese movie that smashed box-office records earlier this year with ticket earnings of 4.7 billion yuan, says he learned about China's urgent need for a professional industrial system "the hard way".

"What we lacked with the system, we had to make up with human flesh," he says, referring to the production of The Wandering Earth.

"For one, we don't even have a standard format for screen scripts," he says. "In any other official paperwork, there are standard formats, such as agreed line width and letter spaces, but that is not the case in the film industry in China.

"Don't think of the script as a simple book filled with words-they are bricks that we build a film with."

Guo shares his observation about making China's first successful science-fiction film.

"When we create a situation when the Earth is about to be destroyed, people would normally try to run away, but it is only us, Chinese people, who have such a deep attachment to the Earth, who would want to run away with it," he says.

"This special attachment with the land is part of Chinese culture. I believe that's why the story found strong resonance in China."

This year, more than 3,900 films from 112 countries and regions were submitted for the Golden Goblet awards that take place during the SIFF. Turkish film director and screenplay writer Nuri Bilge Ceylan is the chairman of the seven-member jury for the Golden Goblet awards this year.

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