DIEHARD CINEMA FAN
Shen Jian, the recent winner of a top French honor, has traveled a long way with hisWorld FilmReport, Xu Fan discovers.
AngLee turneddown a number of interview requests from world media when Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon became the first Chinese title to win the Oscar for best foreign movie in 2000.
But at the time, Shen Jian, a lesser-known TV producer, couldn’t just take “no” for an answer, so he sent his staff membersto the director’salma mater, NewYorkUniversity.
There they recorded video greetings from Lee’s former teachers and sent him the tapes.
The strategy worked — Lee granted Shen an interview. And, with it, World Film Report, his weekly program on CCTV-6, began to flourish.
Shen, who until 2000 had no TV-production experience, put in all his money to launch the program that year, but he needed to have something “significant” to get CCTV-6, a leading movie channel in China, to buy it.
“I told my people that you had no choice but to convince Lee. It was just like a battle for honor. Weneededtowin,” Shen recalls. The 50-year-old — better known as Jonathan Shen in theWest— is the chief producer ofWorld Film Report.
Now15 years later, the show that specializes in foreign hits has interviewed more than 3,000moviemakersfromnearly 80 countries and reaches an audience of up to 1 billion across China, the world’s second-largest movie market.
Shen’s contribution in promoting cinema and cultural exchanges won him Insignia of the French Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters on Wednesday. The honor, presented by the French government, is the highest recognition in the field of culture. In the past, most of the Chinese who won it were celebrities, such as actor Ge You and actress Zhou Xun.
Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, the French ambassador to China, lauded Shen and his team for having established a platform to connect Chinese audiences to world moviemakers.
“I was surprised to hear the good news, as I’m not a star. It’s a great pride to be recognized for my efforts in promoting cultural exchanges and diversity,” Shen says.
Shen, whose love for cinema goes back to his childhood, says theaters acted as “a shelter to flee from the real world’s cruelties” his family faced during the “cultural revolution” (1966-76). He was born in East China’s Nanjing city.
He still remembers the olden-day theaters and their small sales windows.
“Sometimes the crowds behind would push and my hand would hurt,” he says of the time he stood in lines to buy tickets at such counters. “But I was still excited.”
That may explain why Shen, who worked as a government-policy consultant before 2000, decided to launch a TV show about movies. His analysis ofChina’s digital reforms, based on a fourmonth study in Silicon Valley, was adopted by the 10th FiveYear Plan (2001-2005), the country’s economic and social development blueprint.
Shen says his stay in the United States gavehimopportunities to make friends with some influential Hollywood moviemakers like veteran producer Mike Medavoy. He returned to China and established Shinework Media that started to produceWorld Film Report, which features facetointerviews with foreign moviemakers in their respective countries.
Shen also works as a consultant to several international companies, including Microsoft, Royal Philips and US investment fund Silver Lake.
“When the international firms encounter problems or are confused, they look for help. My work in some sense is like writing a screenplay to guide them step by step,” Shen says. “What I earn from consultancy is spent in movie production.”
His connection with the rest of the world has given Shen’s company rich resources to produce movies. So far, Shinework has signed production contracts with India, Iran, Kazakhstan and Indonesia. And, agreements with Egypt, Greece, Cuba and Pakistanareinthepipeline, hesays.
His aim is more to enhance cultural exchanges among countries that are part of China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative that seeks to revive connections that existed along the ancient Silk Road.
One example can be seen in the coproduction with Kazakhstan, which is inspired by the last years of famous Chinese musician Xian Xinghai, who died in Kazakhstan at the age of 40.
Shen has realized his adolescentdreamof exploring the world of cinema, but he also knows the responsibilities of helming a popular TV program likeWorld Film Report.
“Cinema is a medium beyond language and ethnicity to record and pass down different cultures,” he says.
In 2006, Shen participated as an unofficial member in discussions for the final report of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, initiated by Kofi Annan, then-UN secretary-general.
The report aims to “explore the roots of polarization betweensocietiesandcultures today, and to recommend a practical program of action to address this issue”, according to theUNAOC website.
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Chinese TV producer Shen Jian (right) is a frequent guest at influential film events, such as the Academy Awards ceremony.