Shanghai holds world's first film festival since coronavirus

The 23rd Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF) is an important milestone in the return to normal urban life, and a strong signal that the Chinese film industry is ready to kick back into action. August 5, 2020
By Zhang Rui

The audience watch a film at a temporary out-door cinema set up in a barn in Shanghai during the 23rd Shanghai International Film Festival, July 25, 2020. [Photo courtesy of SIFF]

Along with the reopening of China's cinemas, the 23rd Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF) is an important milestone in the return to normal urban life, and a strong signal that the Chinese film industry is ready to kick back into action.

Faced with the challenges of COVID-19, the festival is now a blueprint for how to hold a successful film festival during these difficult times. 

Due to the pandemic, the film festival was delayed from June until July 25. The festival played films not just at cinemas, but at open-air spots and online too. Film tickets to the film exhibition were almost sold out within two hours, demonstrating people's enthusiasm for cinema.

This festival adopted strict epidemic prevention and control measures, with audiences reduced to 30% capacity, and no more than 4 screenings per day in each screening hall.

Although the number of participating cinemas was lower than last year, the total number of Chinese and foreign films was 322, including 232 films world premieres, international premieres, Asia premieres and China premieres. 

During the SIFF, there were 1,146 screenings of films played at 29 cinemas, with the number of audiences up to 147,502. Among all the audiences, Shanghai audiences took up 71.3%, followed by those from Hangzhou at 3.4%, and Beijing at 3.0%. In terms of the age of audiences, people aged between 20 and 29 took up 56.8%, becoming the main force of the audiences.

The festival organizers introduced many measures to keep the audience safe, including: body temperature measurement; contact tracing apps; face masks requirements; and the provision of standby masks and hand sanitizers. Outdoor films were played at seven business areas during the film festival. Even in the open-air spots, strict prevention and control measures were implemented. According to the statistics, a total of 50 films were played at the outdoor spots, with 147 screenings and 13,570 audience members.

A photo shows the exterior of Shanghai Film Art Center, the main base of the 23rd Shanghai International Film Festival. [Photo courtesy of SIFF]

This year's Shanghai International Film Festival canceled their awards, but the films selected for the Golden Goblet Awards and the Asian New Talent Award were released, which is a recognition of the creative achievements of Chinese and foreign filmmakers in the past year. A number of world premiere films, such as "Back to The Wharf," "The Reunions" and "Seeing Nara Again," were delivered to the SIFF for screening. 

The festival took advantage of the internet to break through the limitations of the traditional festival, and obtained far more participants and extensive attention than ever before. Between July 17 to Aug. 1, microblog topics with the keywords "Shanghai Film Festival" and "Shanghai International Film Festival" had more than 300 million views. 

Through online events like the forums and master classes, domestic and foreign filmmakers were able to express and exchange their feelings, suggestions and ideas. 

Fu Ruoqing, vice president and CEO of China Film Co., Ltd. and chairman of Huaxia Film Distribution Co., Ltd., said that they had been working hard to create works during the epidemic period, such as "Impasse" directed by Zhang Yimou, four films commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Korean War, films about the Wuhan people's anti-epidemic efforts, and those commemorating the centenary of the founding of the CPC. 

He said that during the epidemic period, he firmly believed that cinemas would reopen one day, so he paid close attention to creation and preparation. "When it was announced that cinemas could resume, we immediately found 35 films and distributed them to cinemas across the country. We just rolled out 4 million tickets worth 100 million yuan, targeted at medical workers and students."

Famous Chinese and foreign lecturers at the master classes included Chinese director Jia Zhangke, American screenwriter and producer James Schamus, French writer and director Olivier Assayas, Japanese directors Naomi Kawase and Hirokazu Koreeda, and Filipino director Lav Diaz. Except for Jia Zhangke, who came to Shanghai, the others all communicated online through social video platforms. They expressed their feelings about the "long-lost reunion" with their peers and fans at the SIFF, and also introduced their experiences in film creation that did not stop during the epidemic. At a point during one session, Assayas became emotional: "This year is a special year for every filmmaker and the Shanghai International Film Festival is a symbol of hope."

Film executives pose for a photo at the opening forum of the 23rd Shanghai International Film Festival, held in Shanghai, July 25, 2020. [Photo courtesy of SIFF]

Jia added, "Shanghai Film Festival became the first internationally certified Class A film festival to resume since the outbreak of the epidemic, which reflects the remarkable achievements of the epidemic prevention and control in China. SIFF has completed its preparations, screenings and other work in such a short period of time, showing the resilience and industry spirit of Chinese filmmakers. It not only serves as a festival, but also allows us to encourage each other and to strengthen our confidence. We can do better when united."

On the last day of the festival, the authorities provided a 10 yuan subsidy for each film ticket sold, which allowed film lovers to continue their exploration of Chinese and foreign film culture, the organizers said. 

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