Magazine article Screen International

Jia Zhangke Talks New Projects, Arthouse Distribution

Magazine article Screen International

Jia Zhangke Talks New Projects, Arthouse Distribution

Article excerpt

It's one of the ironies of China's booming theatrical market that award-winning and prestige films, from either Chinese auteurs or overseas directors, struggle to secure a theatrical release. Even when they do manage to reach screens, they are usually programmed in unfavourable time slots.

"Mountains May Depart had around 1.2 million admissions when it was released in cinemas, but more than ten million views online," says Jia Zhangke, referring to his last feature, which played in competition at Cannes in 2015.

"There's an audience out there but we have to figure out how to reach them. Previously the arthouse audience was just confined to the big cities, but it's now moving to smaller cities and provincial capitals."

Speaking to Screen at Mumbai Film Festival, where he was presented with the Excellence In Cinema Award, Jia explains how he and his fellow Chinese filmmakers have spent several years lobbying the government to improve market access for arthouse films. A few days before he flew to Mumbai, their efforts seemed to be paying offwith news that China is establishing a new arthouse circuit, the National Arthouse Film Alliance, operated by China Film Archive and five other companies, including Jia's Fabula Entertainment.

Jia says the new alliance is considering setting up a committee, comprising filmmakers, critics, academics and historians, to discuss what their definition of arthouse will be. "For sure it will be films that are not typical Hollywood movies, but that doesn't mean we're ruling out English-language films," Jia explains.

The selected films will be curated into themes comprising both new and classic movies. They will be given platform theatrical releases, ensuring that every title is given a certain number of prime screening slots. Jia adds that issues surrounding China's quota restrictions – ie whether the films will be imported in addition to the current 34 revenue-sharing and 20-30 flat fee imports – have yet to be ironed out.

"From my personal point of view, the movies we select should be of high artistic value – they should be innovative in some way or express real human emotions," Jia adds. "The idea is that we'll support films that don't have any other kind of financial or promotional backing [in the China market] but we're meeting next month to finalise how we'll go about the selection of the films."

When asked if the current slowdown in China's box office prompted the Chinese authorities to take action, Jia said the government is more concerned about the quality of Chinese movies than ticket receipts. …

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