US film­maker sees a wealth of pos­si­ble sto­ries to tell in China

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINESE TRAIN PROJECTS AROUND THE WORLD - By SUN YE sunye@chi­

The day that direc­tor Chris Eyre ar­rived in Bei­jing, the big news in the city was how a Fer­rari had col­lided with a Lam­borgh­ini not too far away from the Bird’s Nest Olympic sta­dium.

“They said it had some­thing to do with Fast and Fu­ri­ous 7,” said Eyre, who was in China for the first time and took the ru­mor to heart. “I wouldn’t doubt it,” he said.

The movie had grossed more than 2.4 bil­lion yuan ($370 mil­lion) in one month since its re­lease. It was also the first movie to earn that stag­ger­ing amount in the ever-ex­pand­ing Chi­nese mar­ket.

That mar­ket and the en­vi­ron­ment that pro­pels its growth were part of the rea­son Eyre, best known for his 1998 Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val award-win­ning in­de­pen­dent film Smoke Sig­nals, had come to the Mid­dle King­dom.

Eyre, a mem­ber of the Cheyenne and Ara­paho Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes, has long been a go-to per­son for films about Na­tive Amer­i­cans. But the grad­u­ate of New York Uni­ver­sity’s Grad­u­ate Film Pro­gram has also been in­ter­ested in pro­duc­ing films on other sub­jects and gen­res, in­clud­ing sto­ries and char­ac­ters new to him.

“Peo­ple have been hear­ing about the rise of Chi­nese films for years, in Hol­ly­wood as in the whole West­ern world,” said Eyre, who is also the depart­ment chair­man for Santa Fe Uni­ver­sity of Art and De­sign in New Mex­ico. “There is a lot of in­ter­est and fo­cus on see­ing what’s hap­pen­ing here.”

He added: “I am al­ways in­ter­ested in the Chi­nese film in­dus­try. I just want to be ex­posed to the things in front of me here.”

More than 600 films were pro­duced last year in China, with movie­go­ers turn­ing over a to­tal of 30 bil­lion yuan to cine­mas in 2014. In the first 100 days of 2015 alone, rev­enue from the film mar­ket reached 10 bil­lion yuan — al­most 100 mil­lion yuan a day, ac­cord­ing to statis­tics re­leased dur­ing the re­cent Bei­jing In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val.

Eyre doesn’t have a specifi film project about China un­der­way, nor a fa­vorite Chi­nese film­maker or ac­tor — at least not yet. The 47-year-old, how­ever, has been taken by his vis­its to Shang­hai, Bei­jing and nearby cities, and the project pos­si­bil­i­ties.

“The thing that strikes me is that there are so many peo­ple here. Shang­hai is huge, Bei­jing is even big­ger,” he said. “When I think about the mil­lions of peo­ple here, I’m just to­tally as­tounded by the sto­ries that could be told.”

Eyre said the de­sire to tell sto­ries is the force that has driven him dur­ing a film ca­reer of more than 15 years. Dur­ing his stay in China, he’s been busy snap­ping pic­tures of the coun­try, where he said he senses “sto­ries ev­ery­where”.

Dur­ing a tour of the Bei­jing Film Academy, an in­sti­tute with 4,000 stu­dents and home to many of China’s most pres­ti­gious film­mak­ers, he was drawn to a high-end, eight-legged drone-cam­era, the DaVinci Re­solve video and im­age edit­ing soft­ware, and a vir­tual an­i­ma­tion lab.

“See how small the world is. We all use the same things,” he said. “China is very ex­cit­ing be­cause so much tal­ent is here, and so many peo­ple are em­brac­ing me­dia.”

As to Chi­nese stu­dents, who were the other rea­son be­hind his China trip, Eyre had a chat with a class made up of lit­er­a­ture, di­rect­ing and an­i­ma­tion ma­jors, largely with­out a trans­la­tor.

“The stu­dents here are the same as ev­ery­where else,” Eyre said. “They’re tal­ented and have a lot of ideas.”

For now, the film school at Santa Fe Uni­ver­sity of Art and De­sign doesn’t have stu­dents from the Chi­nese main­land.

“We wel­come in­ter­na­tional stu­dents,” he told the class, stress­ing hands-on op­por­tu­ni­ties and schol­ar­ships pro­vided by the school. And he may in­deed soon spot new faces there.

“Nearly one-fourth of our grad­u­ates now go abroad for fur­ther study,” said Zhang Chen, lec­turer at Bei­jing Film Academy. “More are plan­ning to go, too.”

Zhang added: “So it would be very in­ter­est­ing to see what hap­pens in four, five years, when the group of stu­dents comes back with an in­ter­na­tional back­ground. They could bring huge changes to the in­dus­try here.”

Still, un­der­stand­ing an­other cul­ture may not be as easy and smooth as us­ing uni­ver­sal edit­ing soft­ware.

As Eyre’s brief ex­pe­ri­ence with the hip stu­dents showed, Meryl Streep is not al­ways a familiar name or face for film stu­dents in China. And Natalie Port­man’s look re­quired a few mo­ments to de­ci­pher. As for Eyre, Zhang Yi­mou and Chen Kaige (both Chi­nese di­rec­tors fa­mous within the coun­try) were names that were slow to ring a bell.

The good thing is though, as Eyre says, “We’re open to ev­ery­thing.”

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