I recently did a short interview interview with Zafer YIilmaz, Deputy Editor of SineBlog at Hacettepe University, about about Chinese film industry in terms of industrialization, cinema's socio-cultural mission, content and the future. Interview was translated to Turkish and can be found at a link HERE. The English version of the text is available below:
- Since China is second in the world in terms of sectoral size, can we say that Chinese cinema sees Hollywod and/or Bollywood as a rival??
China (PRC) is the world's second-largest movie going market and Chinese films certainly do take inspiration from Hollywood and Bollywood productions, but calling them competitors implies a contentious relationship based on domination and/or subjugation. Most Chinese blockbusters are catered exclusively towards domestic audiences and do not try to engage with audiences abroad. They use Mandarin language, culturally specific references and Chinese myths without really attempting to titillate transnational markets. Hollywood blockbusters, on the other hand, consider international reception from the productions’ earliest conception and often adjust film’s content to maximize its cultural appeal and overseas profits. Part of that effort includes doing co-productions with Chinese film companies (a way for Holywood films to acquire access to PRC markets) and inserting flattering images of China.
- The 5th generation directors promoted the international position of Chinese cinema, enabling the world to learn about Chinese cinema. The 6th generation of directors reflected the life of ordinary people by boldly touching on outcast themes in Chinese cinema with their own artistic characteristics and exploring new areas in Chinese cinema. How do you think the thematic and technical preferences of, for example, the "7th generation of directors" will evolve?
7th generation directors will have to find a way to start from scratch and obtain the necessary investment to allow their works to be seen. Unlike the 5th and 6th generation, they have greater access to technical means of production and can locate national and transnational partners more easily, but are working in increasingly restricted media space. Chinese authorities have pledged to make the recent state of heightened censorship and ideological control over film content the new normal, which puts a burden on young filmmakers whose productions will probably have to balance competing interests: telling authentic and interesting stories while strictly serving state interests. At the same time, PRC is constantly trying to open up more opportunities and to nurture its young talent. For example, The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) has in 2015 launched its multi-million CFDG Young Director Support Program, engaging Jia Zhangke, Zhang Yimou, Feng Xiaogang, Tian Zhuangzhuang, and others to select and counselor five young directors. Likewise, in 2016 Ning Hao’s Dirty Monkeys Studio started a 72 Transformations Film Plan to support young directors and some big tech companies have followed. Alibaba Pictures’ Plan A Screenplay Developing Fund, sponsored Zhou Ziyang’s Old Beast and Baidu-owned iQIYI’s Plan 17 financed Zhang Dalei’s The Summer is Gone. Lastly, China’s two largest festivals, Beijing International Film Festival and the Shanghai International Film & TV Festival, have established Project Pitches and PROJECT Lab and, whose chief goal is to entice and cultivate young talent.
These are just some of the resources that a 7th generation directors have at their disposal and while there is no guarantee that such initiatives will produce exceptional generation of young filmmakers, they still have more incentives and opportunities than their predecessors. The fact that greater number of young directors today have great means of creating the films they want, is certain to make a difference on the PRC cinema in the coming years.
- What do you think about Chinese film industry's sociological and cultural mission within the country (eg strengthening the national unity, etc.)?
Chinese film industry's sociological and cultural mission ads burden that, at times, strains filmakers’ ability to tell engaging stories. For example, SARFT (among other things) discourages exploration of western lifestyles, LGBTQ topics, time-travel, portrayal of hip hop, tattoos, piercings and superstition. This is only a fractal of limitations that Chinese filmmakers have to get around and steadily restrictive censorship inevitably tampers with Chinese filmmakers' creativity.
It is almost paradoxical that a country with a direct ability to inﬂuence national cinema and use it as a resource of soft power cannot fully utilize it precisely because of this ability. Free speech restrictions and censorship not only reduce the creative output of Chinese ﬁlmmakers but also raise credibility issues for foreigners disinclined to confuse cinematic truth with political reality. Audiences may willfully suspend their disbelief for a few hours and enjoy the Chinese ﬁlm, but as long as there is a contradiction between the two spheres, ﬁlm’s soft power capacity is likely to remain dormant.
- Some Western critics have evaluated films Wolf Warrior 2, Operation Red Sea, The Wandering Earth etc. as "cheap propaganda materials" or "feature length commercials". Do you think these films are produced for China's "new superpower" image?
They are but other countries’ films are more effective in accomplishing this. Companies aiming to establish good relationships with PRC are required to exhibit positive portrayals of Chinese culture and this is the reason why the trend has been on the rise in South Korea, the USA, and other countries. In an effort to bypass censors and please Chinese regulators, American blockbusters have been especially eager in this. Films like Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014), X -men: Days of Future Past (2014), The Martian (2015), and Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) all hail China as a technical and political superpower.
- Does the industrialization of cinema serve influencing the international public opinion, introducing the facts about the country, etc. ? In the present case, do you think China's “soft power” policy related with cinema proceed successfully?
The issue of censorship and self-censorship inevitably comes up in discussions of China’s cinema. Asides from lowering the credibility of China’s filmic portrayal abroad, it tampers with the creation of innovative and exciting ﬁlm stories. Audiences in international urban centers tend to prefer ﬁlm subjects and stories that excite them emotionally, mentally and physically. Stories that appeal to them often include characters that make morally questionable choices, satire, social taboos, violence, criminals or ghosts – all of which are subject to censorship in China. This is highly problematic in regards to soft power because it is impossible for ﬁlm to yield any kind of soft power inﬂuence unless it is 1) attractive and 2) credible to the foreign audience. Chinese films are made mostly with domestic audience in mind. What is more worrisome, some high-quality ﬁlms which may be internationally successful and contribute to the proliferation of interest in Chinese cinematography overseas can be deemed undesirable by the state and denied distribution /economic support.
- Has Chinese film industry reached the upper limit it deserves in itself and in the world? What else do you think there is more to do?
China and Chinese filmmakers have a lot to offer and I believe that we have not even seen a fraction of it yet. While their ability to tell internationally compelling stories still lags behind Hollywood and Bollywood, the astounding growth of film industry coupled with immense funds that are pumped into the productions are likely to yield good long-term results. I can foresee that a film regulation will relax at some point and once that happens, there will be plenty of highly skilled filmmakers who will jump at opportunity to tell their stories. This has happened in South Korea in the early 1990’s and I feel that