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Print Edition> Nation
UPDATED: April 14, 2008 NO.16 APR.17, 2008
Let There Be Film!
Independent Chinese films facing financing and distribution problems are now finding their way out through the U.S. market

Financing is difficult for independent Chinese filmmakers, even for someone like Jia Zhangke who has won international acclaim, including the winning of the 2006 Golden Lion award for his film Still Life.

"When making independent films, how to get the money is a big problem," Jia told Beijing Review. He recalled his experience of making the film Xiao Shan Going Home, which won a top prize at the 1997 Hong Kong Independent Short Film & Video Awards. At that time, he had to think of every possible means to borrow equipment from friends and others. He borrowed a video camera from a news outlet where one of his classmates' father was working. "I can only use it for five days, so I have to make the most use of it," Jia said.

Despite the dual difficulties of distribution and financing a lot of independent filmmakers in China are continuing on this path. With strong emotion and enthusiasm, they are trying to capture the invisible images and social problem, to tell stories about a country both fascinating and disturbing. Many of these Chinese independent filmmakers are called as the sixth generation of Chinese directors, which mainly refer to graduates of the Beijing Film Academy of the mid-1980s.

Faced with difficulties in showing independent films in public theaters, many independent Chinese filmmakers have tried to make their production visible by participating in international film festivals. And some of them have gained high recognition and warm acclaims from the international film community. One most recent example is the winning of the Silver Bear award at this year's Berlin Film Festival by Wang Xiaoshuai for his latest film In Love We Trust.

Hitting the U.S. market

Nevertheless, getting awards from international film festivals can be achieved by only a small number of independent Chinese filmmakers. For the majority of them, getting the films distributed and earning money back for investors are still a tough reality.

Bringing these films to the United States is a great solution, Chien said. Though U.S. audiences have heard about and seen some of the independent Chinese films, these films have not really come to the U.S. market before. She said that she was happy to be the first one to try to establish the channel.

Chien is now working with Renew Media in bringing in the independent Chinese films. The latter is setting up a platform called Reframe for downloading films online, including the upcoming ones from China. Reframe will be the initial outlet for their targeting market.

They are targeting the academic market as their first audience. "There is wide interest across many disciplines in China, especially in the academic community," Chien said, adding, "They teach about China in business school, architecture school, religious studies and so on."

Encouraged by "incredible support and enthusiasm" from the U.S. academic community, Chien said she has spared no effort in expanding her social network to get in contact with as many independent Chinese filmmakers as she could.

In January, Chien went to China and spent three weeks in Beijing and Shanghai, meeting about 40 people, including independent film producers and professors at the Beijing Film Academy. She didn't know any of them before going to China. She said that she was so grateful that her friend helped her in making the connection.

"I had about five meetings a day," Chien said. "And there is a lot of interest in this idea," she added. Chien also told Beijing Review that in bringing the independent Chinese films to the United States, she didn't need to ask for the government permission from both sides. So it's all up to the filmmakers, nothing to do with the government, she said.

Chien and her partners are now working hard on their new venture called dGenerate Films, to be officially launched in June in preparation for the 2008-09 U.S. academic calendar.

Chien said that dGenerate Films' mission is to widen the exposure, to bring more groundbreaking independent Chinese films to the United States, and to return revenues that can be invested in building China's independent film infrastructure.

"There are ways to get their films seen in Europe but very little means for them to get their films to the United States. So I hope this will provide them the opportunity," Chien said.

Reporting from New York with additional reporting from Tang Yuankai in Beijing

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