Challenged by the popularization of TV sets and video compact discs, Chinese movie making has been in the doldrums in recent years, even with the rise of the so-called “fifth generation” of internationally-acclaimed directors, represented by Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige and Tian Zhuangzhuang. To head jury of the 6th Changchun Film Festival, an annual film festival being held August 23-26 in Jilin provincial capital this year, Xie Tieli, 77, one of China’s most celebrated Chinese film directors and chairman of the China Film Association, came to Changchun. During an interview with Xinhua News Agency, he voiced his views concerning the development of the domestic film industry.
Open up Rural Market
“How can China’s cinema industry run at a loss? With a population of 1.3 billion, if everybody spends US$1 seeing a film, the total income should be US$1.3 billion!” an American movie-goer once commented.
This foreigner’s words set Xie thinking. Chinese filmmakers have been fixing their eyes on the key metropolises, paying little attention to small and medium-sized cities, let alone the rural area in which most of the population dwell. Even today, the film projection team equipped with a 16mm projector still travels “as a guerrilla unit” from village to village. Thus, why not erect simply-structure cinemas in the countryside to show films with a 35mm projector? Even without the stereophonic effect, at least they are much better than open-air theatres that can be found everywhere in rural areas, with 0.5 to 1 yuan at most for a ticket. According to Xie, this move is supposed to serve multiple purposes. First, more peasant film-goers can be drawn to the cinema. It can be seen as an example of “small profits and good sales.” Second, the issue of ticket sales can be solved, since it is not easy to collect fees at an open-air theatre. Third, a potentially large film market can be developed.
Besides, scriptwriters should write more scenarios to the liking of the peasants, simple and easy in concept and vivid and lively in language. Xie criticized himself, in that his early movies such as Early Spring and A Dream of Red Mansions were too deep for a rural filmgoer’s appreciation. “Today very few film workers would like to go to the countryside to observe and learn from real life,” Xie sighed.
“To open up the rural market is a feasible strategy for the development of the Chinese movie industry,” Xie said.
Shortage of Funds for Movie-making Demands Prompt Solution
Due to the scarcity of funds, filming has been slack. Moviemaking is such an industry that requires a heavy initial outlay, while reaping profits lags far behind. Currently, giving awards is the main way to spur the development of the film industry in China. However, many excellent scripts cannot be filmed as a result of capital shortage. Naturally, film financing becomes empty talk. “The country should take measures to offer development funds. Probably this is the fundamental way to promote our film industry,” Xie said.
According to him, each year over 50 percent of the movies made in France are state-funded, while such state-backed movies account for 60 to 70 percent of the total films produced in Russia. The German Federal Film Board (FFA), a governmental film funding institution, grants much financial support for local filmmaking. Unfortunately, many unsupported top-notch Chinese film scenarists and directors have been lured by high income into producing TV serials.
“A shortage of funds brought about the brain drain in film circles, which, in turn, has caused the slump in the Chinese cinema. So, our film-making industry faces a vicious circle,” commented Xie with heavy heart.
Chinese Cinema Calls for a Supervisory System
“The further development of the Chinese movie is predicated on the establishment of an effective supervisory system to regulate both the distribution and showing of films,” he said.
Xie’s long-held wish to lay down rules to gauge the film market management has never been fulfilled. Last year, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television promulgated an Ordinance on Film Administration, which is far from being satisfactory in terms of both the establishment of a sound and strict supervisory system and the implementation of the relevant regulations prescribed in the decree.
Taking the prevalent concealment of box-office income as an example, Xie pointed out that, without an effectual supervisory system, this phenomenon could cause at least two problems. “First, after China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), it has been stipulated that two-thirds of the movies shown in China must be Chinese films. However, who takes the responsibility to carry out this regulation? Second, failing to report box-office receipts has encroached upon the interests of film studios, whose enthusiasm and ability to invest in new movie productions will be damaged correspondingly.”
(新华社 [Xinhua News Agency], translated by Shao Da for china.org.cn, August 21, 2002)