Film Screenings in Rural Areas
Non-profit film screenings allow Beijing’s rural residents to enjoy the achievements of the Chinese film industry’s reform and development and have a greater sense of gain and happiness.
Is a film going to be screened tonight as usual?” a villager asked. “Yes. Qiu Shaoyun,” projectionist Li Liqing said. Qiu Shaoyun is a film about Qiu Shaoyun (1926–1952), a martyr from the Chinese People's Volunteer Army who died during the Korean War.
A sudden, heavy rain poured down in Ximagezhuang Village in Mentougou District. Some people began to doubt if Film Day, which takes place every Thursday, would occur as usual. Li was learning how to operate the new equipment at a screening hall in the village. With the help of some experts, the implementation of the new equipment was going smoothly. Li quickly became familiar with how to use the equipment as well.
Villagers were able to make it to the screening hall after dinner. Short films pertaining to good causes were screened first. Then Qiu Shaoyun began. People became immersed in the touching story. Li stood smiling in the back row, watching the clear frames and absorbed audience in front of her.
A project known as the 2131 Project has been implemented in China. It is a government-sponsored project to implement more film screenings in rural areas across the country. People can access digital film screening as a result of this project. More screening halls are becoming available in the city's rural areas. Outdoor screenings, which have declined in recent times, are becoming more common again also. There are now more film-related events in Ximagezhuang. People can enjoy popular films, such as Honghai xingdong
( Operation Red Sea, 2018), Xiuxiu de tiequan ( Never Say Die, 2017), Shibadongcun ( Hold Your Hands, 2017) and even 3D films such as Zhanlang II ( Wolf Warrior II, 2017). The city's farmers are very happy about this development. Some people stated, “We can see many good films free of charge!” when talking about the project.
Increasing Film Screenings in Rural Areas
Daguanlou Cinema stands on Dashilar Business Street in the Qianmen area near Tian'anmen Square. It is more than 100 years old and is one of the China's earliest cinemas. It is considered the birthplace of Chinese films. Watching movies is of course a normal part of life for many people in Beijing now. There are many cinemas with large screens, comfortable seats and temperature-controlled rooms in Beijing. An increasing amount of Chinese films with modern audiovisual effects are being screened.
In 2017, box office earnings in Beijing amounted to 3.395 billion yuan. There were 2.7371 million film screenings, 76.3631 million tickets sold and 3.51 visits per person to cinemas in Beijing. The city featured 1,469 screens in 215 cinemas. Six Chinese films had box office earnings exceeding one billion yuan. Wolf Warrior
Ⅱ (2017) and Never Say Die (2017) were produced by film companies based in Beijing and are two examples. They were the top two highest grossing domestic films last year, making 5.683 billion yuan and 2.212 billion yuan, respectively.
When searching for cinemas in Beijing with an electronic device, one will see red dots everywhere, each of which represents a cinema. Most of them are located within the city's Fifth Ring Road and downtown areas in its suburbs. There are newly developed cinemas at villages and towns in urban-rural fringe zones but mountainous areas have far fewer theatres available. For people living in those areas, seeing a movie is less common. It can even be something of a luxury.
Film is for everyone and should not be a privilege for a certain group of people or people living in a specific region. Therefore, in 1998, the Ministry of Culture and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television proposed that the 2131 Project for rural residents be implemented across China. It included a goal of showing at least one film per month in each village in China by the early 21st century. This goal was supposed to be subsidised by the government as well. In 2000, the National Development and Reform Commission; the Ministry of Culture; and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television issued a document stating that the project would be included in the government's economic and social development plans at all levels. A special fund was established for the film screenings in rural areas. In 2007, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television issued a document to further the development of the film screenings and standardise them and their distribution as digital film became more popular.
Beijing is a pioneer city regarding the project. The People's Government of Beijing Municipality has listed the 2131 Project as one of its major projects since 2006. Some local Communist Party of China (CPC) committees and government offices consider the project to be very important on their schedules. Some areas consider
the project to be a way to help assess the improvement of public cultural services in general. The project is often categorised as a way to bring tangible benefits and improvements to people's lives and to improving villages. Some areas have also incorporated the project into a programme that evaluates the performance of government officials. Film screenings are an important part of cultural development in rural areas. This benefits rural residents and improves their well-being. Beijing has invested in the development of nearly 4,000 digital screening halls and has supplied 300 mobile projectors since 2006. It is the only city in China to realise full coverage of digital film screenings citywide since 2009 thus far. The city averages 40 screenings per village each year. More than 550 films covering a variety of themes are screened per year. There have been more than 170,000 total screenings each year in Beijing's rural areas. People have enjoyed the movies more than 8.2 million times each year. The film screenings are nonprofit endeavours. Rural residents do not need to pay to watch them.
Selecting a Variety of Films
Classic movies like Yingxiongernü ( Heroic Sons and Daughters, 1964), Liubao de gushi ( The Story of Liubao Village, 1957) and Zhuiyu ( To Catch a Fish, 1959) are scheduled for September in Pingyuan Village in Beijing's Mentougou District. Some newer movies like Xiongchumo zhi xiongxin guilai ( Boonie Bears: the Big Top Secret, 2015) and Xiongchumo zhi qihuan kongjian ( Entertaining Worlds, 2017) are being screened as well.
Some people may wonder why old films are incorporated into the project. “The reason is, it depends on who the filmgoers are in the rural areas and what they prefer,” Han Peng explained. Han works with the Mentougou Film Distribution Centre. “Most young adults from the rural areas work in urban Beijing. Most people who stay in the rural areas are children and the elderly. They tend to like animation and adaptations of traditional Chinese operas, respectively.” Films covering themes like patriotism are often available also. Not less than 60 percent films produced over the past two years need to be screened for non-profit screenings in its rural areas. Recent Chinese blockbusters like Wolf Warrior Ⅱ (2017) and Operation Red Sea (2018) are very popular. Liu Yingjie, a projectionist from the Culture Centre of Yangsong Town in Huairou District stated: “In May, many local people gathered in Huairou Square to see Wolf Warrior Ⅱ (2017). Audience members spontaneously applauded when they saw Leng Feng (the hero of the film) holding the Chinese flag and moving through a conflict zone.”
Projectionists communicate with local villagers to learn about what they want to see. Han explained, “If there is a lot of interest in a particular movie, we will look for it at the centre and show it if it is available.”
The centre Han is referring to is the Digital Film Programme Management Centre of the National Radio and Television Administration. The centre is a source of films for the rural residents and adheres to copyright law. It possesses a database of more than 10,000 digital films. The centre provides a variety of services for the rural film screenings, digital cinemas in urban areas, home theatres, streaming video websites and high-definition film channels.
Though the screening halls in the city's rural areas cannot screen brand new blockbusters, they do not always show old films. Some new films can be screened in the city's rural cinemas and screening halls within two months after they were screened at urban cinemas though. Some current films can even be screened at the rural screening halls without a waiting period. There are 58 commercial cinemas and more than 40 screening halls in the city's rural areas. The city's rural residents have opportunities to enjoy recent films. Some areas even have both non-profit and commercial options.
The technology being used in the rural areas is improving also. 3D films are making their way to these areas. Mentougou District has been screening 3D films since September 2017 in its mountainous areas, including places like Qingshui and Zhaitang, benefiting more than 5,000 villagers. These were China's first 3D film screenings in rural areas. Han stated: “We think watching 3D films is common. It is still a new experience for many rural residents though. They aren't necessarily aware of the 3D film era and may not have any experience with it. Our 3D film screenings in the countryside have enabled more rural residents to see them and give it a try.”
There is a lot of anticipation for the film screenings in rural areas. They can even exceed the occupancy rate of commercial cinemas. Liulimiao Town in Huairou District has more than 8,000 residents in its 25 villages. Zhao Fengwen, a projectionist who works at the film screenings in the town, mentioned: “In big villages, a screening can attract 50 or 60 villagers. In small villages, more than ten
people will usually come. This might sound small, but it may be a third or a half of the whole village. In fact, apart from blockbusters, at cinemas in the city's urban areas, there are only several filmgoers for each screening during non-prime period.”
Upgrading the Projection Equipment
On the evening of Friday, August 24 this year, more than 500 filmgoers gathered at Dagantang Village's Centre Square in Tongzhou District. It was a film screening night, and Operation Red Sea (2018) was about to start. Many people came to the square early to talk to people and find a good place to sit. The clear images appeared on a big screen. Most people quickly became immersed in the movie. A few people whispered with each other. Some children imitated the dialogue in the movie.
A film industry delegation from the Lao People's Democratic Republic was present in the audience. Cooperation between the film industries of Laos and China has been deepening and is part of the Belt and Road Initiative. The main purpose of the Laos film delegation's trip was to learn about the Online Film Management System for Rural Areas and the Online Service Platform for Rural Areas that the China Film Group Corporation (CFGC) uses. They were also visiting some of the venues that are used for non-profit film screenings and learning about the projectors and other equipment that are used in rural areas in Beijing. The Laos film delegation enjoyed the full moon, warm summer night and inviting atmosphere in the crowd. The head of the delegation had planned to watch the start of the movie for about 10 minutes and then continue with other stops on their trip. The delegation stayed for about 40 minutes though. He said: “This environment fascinates me. We need to learn from you. I hope Laos and China can further strengthen our cooperation in the film industry.”
This film screening at Dagantang Village was organised by the Shiji Dongfang Digital Cinema Company. The M600 projector was used. There are only two companies that screen films in rural Beijing: Shiji Dongfang Digital Cinema Company and the Benxiaokang Digital Cinema Company. The two cinema companies were approved to carry out film screenings by the government agencies through an open bidding process. The former was founded in May 2006 and is responsible for film distribution and screenings in rural areas across the country. Its screening equipment is based on its own R&D and has been approved by the government's technological inspection and testing institutions. The latter is governmentsponsored and was approved by the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture to implement more film screenings in the rural areas. It was founded by the Beijing Film Company and Beijing Shidai Huaxia Jindian Cinema Company in December 2006.
Film projectors are an important part of the film screenings in rural areas. Most of the projectionists in the city's rural areas are not professionals. The projectors that have been selected for the film screenings in rural areas provide complete screening functions. They have smart features and are easy to use. The M600 is an example. It was developed by Shiji Dongfang. There is a small screen on the right side of the M600 that shows what is being projected. According to General Manager of Shiji Dongfang Zhuang Yin: “The M600 meets national projector standards. We adjust our projectors according to the needs of the market and the audience. For example, our previous projector was very comprehensive, included a server and kept costs high. The M600 is leaner, cheaper and more streamlined.”
Shiji Dongfang has provided 1,598 M600 projectors in Beijing. They are very stable, have a low failure rate, incorporate smart features and movies can be arranged on demand. It has become one of the most favoured projectors among projectionists at the grassroots level. Shiji Dongfang has even modified the M600 to make it easier to use. The screen has been enlarged and some adjustments have been made to its keys. The company's Deputy General Manager Zhang Haiyan explained: “Though its hardware has been upgraded, its operation process has not changed much. We still call it the M600. The projectionists can usually quickly adapt to it.”
Wang Xiaochen was excited when he logged into his Wechat (social media platform similar to Facebook and Whatsapp) account at about 9:30 a.m. recently. He received some messages stating: “Jiuyuan is Ok,” “huangtai is OK” and “Lüjiapo is Ok.” this was the green light for him and his team to upgrade 34 projectors in Qianshan in Mentougou District that day.
Wang Xiaochen is general manager of the Beijing Benxiaokang Digital Cinema Company. Wang wanted to gather all the old equipment in the rural areas and replace it in one location. Most of Mentougou is mountainous though. It is not efficient to gather the equipment in this way. Wang explained: “We made a special arrangement. We dispatched five groups of technicians to replace equipment in different villages. Yesterday the work was smooth and 44 machines were replaced.”
Ximagezhuang Village is located in Mentougou's mountainous areas. It had some projection equipment that needed to be replaced. Projectionists can also be trained face to face if technicians upgrade and replace equipment in this way.
Li Liqing has projected films for more than three years in the village. She is familiar with the old equipment. The rocker switches she has used for years are now buttons. Function keys like F1 and F2 are enlarged. The new equipment features an interface with clearer text and smart functions. She stated: “This new equipment (Montage V12x) is much easier to operate than the old projector. Minor problems have been solved also, as expected.”
The new equipment makes everything more efficient, and it is very easy to adhere to copyright law. Wang explained: “The new equipment features a 4G module. Automatically generated real-time information in the system's log files can almost instantly be transmitted to a monitoring centre. The government requires that at least 95 percent of a film be shown. This timeframe is considered an effective screening. Such a screening will pass an evaluation and help obtain subsidies from the government. The projector automatically records daily operations and can identify screenings. For example, after a 95-minute film ended, a log file shows that it finished. If a movie was not finished for some reason,
that is indicated also. The projector can remember where a movie was stopped if there is an interruption and it needs to be resumed later.”
Smart projectors assist in the management of film screenings and reduce abnormal screening rates. The city has also issued more than ten documents in recent years regarding the implementation of the 2131 Project. These cover things like special fund management, specific standards to regulate non-profit film screenings like GPS/GPRS platforms, the provision of a variety of services, selection of films, adjustment of screening times and organising legal training for the screenings. In 2017, the abnormal screening rate in Beijing was only 0.27 percent, which was far below the national average level. Satisfaction with rural screenings exceeded 85 percent also.
Bringing Happiness to Rural Residents
“Film Fu” (nickname of projectionist Fu Deshun) is well-known in Miyun District's Beizhuang Town. One day in July at around 7:30 p.m., it was still light out. Film Fu was leaving the Office of the People's Government of Beizhuang Town in a white van with projectors in it. A villager affectionately greeted him on his way, asking: “Hi, Film Fu! Where are you going to show films now?” “in Dongzhuang Village,” Fu replied.
Beizhuang Town is surrounded by Wuzhi Mountain, Zhuifeng Mountain and Bangchui Mountain and situated near the Qingshuihe River, Dahuangyan River and Xiaohuangyan River. Its villages, therefore, have a scattered layout. This makes planning film screenings somewhat more difficult. Fu recalled: “Many years ago, there were no highways in the mountainous areas, and I was not allocated a car. I had to transport films that weighed over 50 kilogrammes around the mountains by bicycle. Each round trip usually took me more than one hour. It took me about four hours total to screen a film. I often arrived at home at 1 or 2 a.m.”
Fu pulled into a small playground in Dongzhuang Village. Some children and elderly residents were waiting, excited to see the movie that evening. Some of the children shouted, “Here comes Film Fu's van!” as it pulled up. He turned off the ignition, unloaded the equipment, connected some wires and tested the projector while chatting with the villagers. Some of them helped him with his duties. One of them stated: “Fu has worked very hard by himself for decades. Many of us grew up watching films that he helped arrange.”
Fu mentioned: “As long as they love watching films, I will try my best to show more. If they are happy, I will be happy!” In 1976, 18-year-old Fu took a three-monthlong training class to learn about screening movies. He began to show 8.75 millimetre (mm) films. There is a village called Zhuanshanhui in Beizhuang Town. Its name means that one needs to pass between many mountains to get there. Many years ago, Fu organised an outdoor screening of Nanhai fengyun ( Storm over the South-china Sea, 1976) there. A heavy rain descended in the area though, interrupting the film. Fu began to take the equipment away. The villagers stayed in the area though, under roof eaves and other dry places. Fu realised that the films were a major form of entertainment in the villages. He decided to cover the projector with an umbrella and continued to show the film. Fu recalled: “There was no TV at that time. If one had a radio, he or she would listen to it during the day. People thought that watching a movie was one of the best forms of entertainment.” In the past, he could provide more than 300 screenings a year. He was constantly travelling through the mountains with his projector. Fu did not go home until the 29th day of the 12th month of the lunar calendar, which is two days before Chinese New Year. His wife asked him what he got in return for his hard work. He felt guilty about being away from his family a lot. He replied: “I am a member of the CPC and need to think about my large family of audience members as well as my small family.”
Fu has witnessed the change from 8.75 mm to 16 mm film and from reflection bulbs to brighter bromine tungsten bulbs inside the projectors and finally the change to digital projection. He said with deep emotion: “The films had to be rewound in the past. The digital technology that we use now is really convenient. I only need to prepare a hard disk to download films from the
film distribution centre. I even have a remote control.” He continued: “Sometimes villagers take the opportunity to chat with neighbours at the screenings. The cool screening halls can be a good break from their houses in the summer also, which may be a little hot.” Projectionists can receive 70 yuan per screening. They can earn an additional 2,800 yuan if they organise at least 40 screenings in a year. The project can provide some extra income. It can be a big commitment to arrange everything rain or shine, especially for decades on end. Fu has screened films in mountainous areas for 43 years. He has organised over 10,000 screenings.
There are many projectionists like Fu in Beijing. Some of them are heads of cultural centres in towns and townships, and some of them are staff members from village committees. They share a common source of pride, which is “bringing happiness to the public and organising film screenings.” In August 2018, Fu retired from screening films. Although he screened many films, he had not considered himself a true film lover. He thinks he was committed to doing his job well and helping the public. He once said, “Loving whatever you are engaged in is a must. Screening films is my job.”
Screening More Films
“Attention please! Wolf Warrior II (2017) is going to be screened at 7:00 p.m. It is a 3D film...” qingbaikou Village in Mentougou announced the plan for the evening. A film screening schedule also gets posted on a notice board at the gate of the village committee office. The names of upcoming films and the dates and times of their screenings are listed. A message was also posted by the official Wechat account for the village. More information was available in a Wechat group as well. Villagers talked about the 3D glasses. Verbal announcements, notice boards and social media are all good channels to distribute information in the village.
“Is it interesting?” han asked with a smile. The screening halls and the mobile film projection squads have a warm atmosphere. The projectionists usually respect the villagers' suggestions. A villager remarked: “Show this martial arts film. It is exciting!” Another requested: “I want to see this scientific documentary. I grow fruit trees. It is useful.”
The non-profit film screenings in the rural areas usually repect the choice of most audiences. Films covering a variety of themes and genres have been screened to encourage more villagers to watch them and offer a comprehensive public cultural product. Some of the movies set good examples regarding social responsibility at various levels. During the 2018 New Year's Day and the Spring Festival holiday, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of the Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television screened films that pertained to the guiding principles of the 19th National Congress of the CPC in 2017 and 40 years of great achievements during China's period of economic reform. Fifty domestic films that were produced in the last two years were selected that cover major themes, have a positive impact and a good reputation. The city's 3,693 screening halls and 306 sets of mobile projection equipment implemented more than 16,000 nonprofit screenings in villages, communities, military camps, schools, construction sites and orphanages. In order to improve the quality of the screenings, the city also organised film lectures. Film industry experts and films production teams were invited to talk about filmmaking, their creative backgrounds, movie plots and background information about their films at cultural centres in villages, towns and communities, helping people at the grassroots level to learn about the film industry and experience its culture.
A variety of film screening events with different themes have been held across the city. Huairou District has held seven consecutive open-air film screening seasons covering the “Golden Years.” These seasons have become popular cultural events in the summer. Shunyi District has combined film screenings with education. Sixteen schools, including Niulanshan Middle School, have incorporated film screenings into their curriculum. Every student can see about 20 films a year. The content is closely related to other educational activities. The programme has been well received by students and teachers. Miyun District has held 13 “Safe Production Month” film screening sessions. Its 2018 “Life First, Safe Development” event involved 22 mobile film screening squads and 344 rural screening halls. More than 700 screenings took place at construction sites, enterprises, communities and in villages, attracting a total of more than 23,000 audience members.
In August 2018, the Sports Film Screenings for Rural Residents in Preparation for the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games series of events began. It will last for more than four years. Resources provided by the National Radio and Television Administration's Film Screening Platform for Rural Residents and the Non-profit Film Screening Network for Rural Residents of Beijing will be used to provide more than 100,000 sports film screenings in more than 4,000 villages and sub-districts. The screenings are part of the events leading up to the upcoming Winter Olympics. They will encourage people to be involved with sports, support the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games and spreading the Olympic spirit. The public has welcomed the screenings. They have also attracted the attention of International Olympic Committee (IOC). IOC President Thomas Bach presented a special congratulatory video that was shown at the opening ceremony of the event series. Francis Gabet, director of the Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage, delivered a speech at the opening ceremony as well. The IOC sent a special team to document the opening ceremony of the event series.
Watching films is one of the most active and popular forms of entertainment in rural areas across the country. As of December 31, 2017, there are 319 digital cinema companies, 305 agencies dealing with digital films' copyrights and 219 ground stations in China. Forty-six thousand four hundred twenty-eight sets of projection equipment are in use. More than 11.24 million screenings were ordered. The project to screen more films in rural areas will continue. Non-profit film screenings allow the city's rural residents to enjoy the achievements of the Chinese film industry's reform and development and have a greater sense of gain and happiness.
Li Liqing works as a projectionist at Ximagezhuang Village in Mentougou District.
Upgrading projection equipment