The pandemic might have battered the domestic film scene, but major industry players have already kicked into high gear to help revive the market's fortunes, Zhang Kun reports in Shanghai.
China's filmmakers celebrated their first big gathering at the 23rd Shanghai International Film Festival which kicked off on July 25, expressing their confidence in the Chinese market and eagerness to speed up creation and production.
The festival, which ends on Aug 2, is the first major international film event taking place in China since the COVID-19 outbreak in late January forced all cinemas in the country to close.
A total of 320 movies, 232 of which are making their China debuts, are being screened at 29 cinemas across the city.
Due to epidemic-prevention and-control measures, only 30 percent of seats in cinemas are available to moviegoers. As such, the festival organizer has put together outdoor screenings to allow more people to view the shows.
Outdoor projection sites have been set up in seven commercial centers and 36 communities in the city. Some of these sites will also invite movie-industry insiders and actors to share their views with the audience before or after the movies.
To ensure public safety, all tickets are sold online, and audiences will need to have their temperatures taken upon entering the cinema. Hand sanitizers, masks and disposable gloves will also be provided. In addition, moviegoers must keep their masks on throughout the movie, and the consumption of food and beverages has been prohibited.
Current circumstances have also compelled the festival to cancel its celebrated red carpet and grand opening ceremony at the Shanghai Grand Theater. Instead, an opening forum featuring film-industry leaders from China was held at the Crowne Plaza Shanghai hotel on July 25.
Another notable fixture that is missing from this year's event is the Golden Goblet Awards, or Asian New Talent Awards.
"We have seen quite a number of companies related to film production closing down because of the pandemic," said Wang Zhonglei, co-founder and CEO of Huayi Brothers Media Corporation, during a forum on the development of the industry chain of filmmaking in China on July 27.
"I can't say these companies were poorly managed or that they lacked a long-term vision. They closed simply because of difficulties in the market."
He notes that the pandemic has caused the entire industry chain to grind to a halt. For example, companies, such as movie-theater operators, also faced stern challenges in terms of cash flow because the cinemas were closed for months.
"When the China Film Administration announced that cinemas in China can reopen on July 20, the whole industry felt like the sun was finally rising for the first time after spending a long time in the dark," he says.
However, it is still too early to talk about the post-pandemic era for the film industry as there is still much uncertainty about the situation, he adds.
In order to get people back in the theaters, Wang says, movie studios in China need to release more shows that have strong market appeal.
Huayi is already planning to do so, having prepared a diverse collection of films that will be released to cinemas nationwide by the end of this year. These productions include the widely anticipated war flick The Eight Hundred, a fantasy drama adapted from the popular video game Shi Shen Ling, as well as comedies and other mainstream feature movies.
Yu Dong, head of Bona Film Group, another leading film-production company in China, said at the opening forum of the SIFF that there are now about 500 movies awaiting release in the Chinese market. He says these shows will keep the cinemas running only until April next year, after which there will be a dearth of new films for the summer-vacation period.
To overcome this problem, Huayi has already resumed production, making new movies at home and abroad. Three or more films will begin production in the latter half of this year, says Wang, including works by such celebrated directors as Feng Xiaogang and Guan Hu. Another show in the cards is a disaster flick directed by Roland Emmerich and filmed in Canada. The company has also invested in a South Korean sci-fi film.
In the first half of this year, Extraction, a production that was shot by Huayi's North American branch, was well received on Netflix, Wang says.
But as the pandemic has hindered international communication and collaboration in the film industry, individual markets will need to develop adequate measures to deal with this problem, Wang says.
"I am confident that we can cope with the situation in the Chinese market," he adds, pointing out how China's movie industry has matured considerably in the past decades.
China currently has the greatest number of film screens in the world. Its box-office takings are also the second largest in the world, behind the United States.
Cheng Wu, CEO of Tencent Pictures, which is owned by the Tencent Group, says at the SIFF that a survey has shown that 5.11 million Chinese people watched 12,000 films and TV programs during the epidemic, which is 24 percent higher than last year. He also found that"88 percent of audiences said they wanted cinemas to reopen and to go to see a film".
"Today, even though it is convenient to watch a film on streaming media, so many people still want to go to the cinema. This shows that films are necessary in people's pursuit of good living," Cheng says.
Shanghai municipality has also implemented new policies to help the city's film industry. On July 26,Songjiang district announced its latest raft of measures to support filmmaking companies.
These measures come on the back of the 2019 Shanghai Hi-Tech Films and TV City project, which introduced 16 new supporting policies. Authorities say the new measures from this year will include expanding the amount of financial subsidies for film enterprises.
The commencement of construction of big-budget projects such as the Shanghai Film Studio Entertainment Park, the Haopu Film and TV production base and the Huace Yangtze Delta International Film and TV Center within the Shanghai Hi-Tech Films and TV City in Songjiang is another demonstration of China's ability to weather this crisis.
"In these difficult times, Songjiang has made great efforts in serving and supporting filmmaking corporations and propagating the development of the Shanghai Hi-Tech Film and TV City project," says Zhao Yong, head of the department of publicity of the district.
He highlights how the district has successfully brought in 549 companies in the first five months, a significant increase of 124 percent compared with last year.