Chinese films get boost in Toronto
It seems like all eyes are now on China’s booming film industry, as directors, producers and audiences alike discussed the rapid development of Chinese movie-making at the Asian Film Summit segment of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
Celebrating its 40th anniversary, TIFF, which ran from Sept 10 to 20, screened 400 films from more than 70 countries and regions, 13 of which were Chinese.
Inspired by Chinese acclaimed filmmaker Jia Zhangke’s groundbreaking film Platform (2000), TIFF launched this year a new program called Platform, to champion films from around the world. The jury was composed of filmmakers Jia Zhang-ke, Claire Denis and Agnieszka Holland.
Jia is no stranger to TIFF. At least 10 of his films have been showcased at the festival since 2006, with his latest, Mountains May Depart, one of the festival’s special presentations this year.
Speaking at the Asian
Film Summit on Sept 15, Jia shared his thoughts on China’s expanding film industry, noting that the Chinese entertainment sector has come a long way.
“Back in the ’90s, there were only 16 film studios in China, and most films made were historical ones,” Jia said.
Fortunately for filmmakers like Jia, the market has changed dramatically over the years.
“Many Chinese are undergoing significant lifestyle changes in the context of social transformation over the last 20 years,” Jia said. “And my film tries to illustrate these changes, especially from an individual point of view.”
On the other hand, the demand for entertainment among Chinese audiences has been rapidly increasing. Andy Li, president of online video platform iQIYI Motion Pictures, says box office sales exceeded 300 million RMB three weeks ago.
“Due to the advanced development of the Internet, interaction between films and the audience is no longer unidirectional,” Li said. “It has now become a multidimensional interaction between film stars, directors and the media. More importantly, the way the audience reacts to this information has changed dramatically as well.”
One of the directors witnessing these changes is He Ping, whose piece, The Promised Land, was featured in this year’s TIFF Platform screenings.
Well-known to audiences as the director of period pieces, The Promised Land is He’s first contemporary film. It is the story of two young adults leaving their rural hometowns and their struggle to survive in metropolitan Beijing.
“I went to many small towns in different parts of China and interviewed more than 100 young adults researching this film,” He said. “Many of them share the same fate: they dream of leading a successful life in big cities like Shanghai and Beijing, only to fail and return to their hometowns.”
To actors of the film Zhang Yi and Wang Jiajia, the story is the reality of Chinese society today.
“In China today, teenagers and young adults are called ‘the generation that floats’, as they move from one city to another,” Zhang said in an interview. “The traditional Chinese concept of remembering one’s roots is no longer valid.”
To Wang, home is where the heart is. “Rather than being bound by their roots, young Chinese women nowadays tend to settle wherever love takes them,” Wang said.
Perhaps the most appealing element of the movie to the Canadian audience is Zhang Yi’s character in the film — an ice hockey coach. At the premiere of The Promised Land on Sept 14, the audience chuckled when Zhang’s character appeared wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey.
“I loved to play ice hockey when I was a child,” Zhang said. “Ice hockey is really big in China nowadays.”
Another topic discussed at the Asian Film Summit was the process of collaboration between Chinese and international filmmakers, as the Chinese film industry continues its expansion.
David Linde, founder of film- financing company Lava Bear Films, talked about his 20 years of experience working with Chinese filmmakers.
“The mistake that Americans make when they approach collaboration in China is they always try to understand the relationship in the context of being an American,” Linde said.
“However, in a place like China, where the culture is so distinct and so different, you can’t do that.”
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Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke (centre) is joined by Toronto International Film Festival art director Cameron Bailey (left) in a discussion of Master Class, at TIFF’s Asian Film Summit on Sept 15 in Toronto.