The future of China’s film industry is looking promising as more and more Chinese consumers are spending time at the movies.
For the past ten years, Chinese box office receipts have increased at more than 30 percent annually, thanks to the country’s growing sector of middle class consumers. China largely contributed to the record earnings of the global box office in 2013, a whopping $35.9 billion in revenues.
Chinese cinema has great potential for growth as well. There are 40,000 movie screens, or one for every 8,000 people, in the United States, but only 20,000 screens in China, or one for every 70,000 people. But almost 100 new screens are being put up weekly in China, and the country is now “posed to take over as the biggest market in the world,” according to Linda Yueh of BBC News.
Film has had a turbulent history in China. The first Chinese movie was made in 1905, and the film industry prospered during the late 1920s and 1930s, a time now known as the “Golden Age” of Chinese cinema. The rise of the Communist Party in 1949 hurt the industry badly though, as the government viewed movies as “tools for propaganda” and took creative freedom away from filmmakers. Almost two decades later, the Cultural Revolution prohibited filmmaking, and there were no feature films made in China between 1966 and 1973. Though Chinese cinema began to bounce back after the country opened up in 1978, most movies made in the country “have yet to breakthrough globally,” and none has ever won an Oscar for Best Picture.
Today the Chinese government’s involvement with the film industry is largely ambivalent. It oversaw construction of the China National Film Museum in Beijing, which showcases the history of Chinese cinema and is considered the largest film museum in the world. The government also imposes a quota on the number of foreign films that are allowed to be screened in the country each year, in an effort to “renew [China’s] film industry to challenge Hollywood.”
But filmmakers in China are hampered by censorship, red tape, and the pressures of appealing to commercial taste. Lu Chuan, “one of China’s most promising young directors,” is working with CGI experts from Hollywood to create a Chinese sci-fi, action movie, but the process of getting the script approved took 18 months. Earlier this year, the 11th Beijing Independent Film Festival was shut down by the police, who confiscated footage from over 70 filmmakers and detained the festival’s organizer, Li Xianting.
“The authorities have always been scared of filmmakers and artists and our discussions during the screening event,” Li said. “I don’t understand that. If the government wants to create a golden age for film, they should provide a more open and liberal environment for us.”
Piracy is another considerable issue for Chinese cinema; an estimated nine out of 10 Chinese DVDs are fake, and with more than $6 billion in sales, they exceed the box office revenue. However, demand for pirated films is falling as more Chinese moviegoers “want the actual experience of going to the cinema.”
image credit: flickr/chris