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“The biggest challenge was to enable the Western audience to understand the story”

Industry Report: Europe and the Rest of the World

Zhu Dan • Producer, Shanghai Film Group


At its sixth Sino-European Project Lab, Bridging the Dragon met up with Zhu Dan, producer at Shanghai Film Group, one of the largest film groups in China

Zhu Dan • Producer, Shanghai Film Group

At its sixth Sino-European Project Lab, Bridging the Dragon met up with Zhu Dan, producer at Shanghai Film Group, one of the largest film groups in China. Dan has produced Black Coal, Thin Ice, the winner of the Berlinale Golden Bear in 2014; Kaili Blues, which won the Best Emerging Director Award at Locarno in 2015; and her latest work, The Wild Goose Lake [+see also:
film review
interview: Diao Yinan
film profile
, which was in the running for the Cannes Palme d'Or last year and grossed €26 million at the Chinese box office.

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Your latest work, The Wild Goose Lake, was selected for last year’s official competition at Cannes. It was a Chinese-French co-production. Can you tell us how it came about and what your experience was like?
Zhu Dan:
I think we are all seeing a trend in the global film market now. Even auteur films, commonly known as arthouse films, are getting better and better in their storytelling, while more and more genre films are being accepted for film festivals. More and more arthouse films and arthouse filmmakers are starting to experiment with genre films and inject them with his or her own style. When The Wild Goose Lake’s director, Diao Yinan, presented social reality through the format of a genre film, the West was particularly excited. For the first time, the West found that Chinese filmmakers could also make film noirs, and use police and bandits to show the social reality of China. Diao Yinan combined these elements very well. The Wild Goose Lake made a new leap forward thanks to this combination, especially with the groundbreaking visual style. We are also seeing that both the richness of the characters and the creativity in the images are elevating the narrative, which is very unique.

What was the biggest challenge when making this film?
The biggest challenge was to enable the Western audience to understand the story and the fate of the characters. We spent a lot of time on the editing.

Several films of yours were selected by European film festivals. Black Coal, Thin Ice even won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale. Do you think it is important for Chinese movies to gain exposure at European festivals?
Chinese movies’ participation in European film festivals stems from both the demands of internal marketing in China and the progress of Chinese films. European festivals are quite an effective platform to explore outstanding films from other regions, just like the Beijing Film Festival and Shanghai Film Festival in our country would invite films and filmmakers from all over the world to participate. At the same time, with the rapid development of China, its political and economic status in the world has become increasingly prominent. Chinese directors are constantly creating high-quality works. Therefore, European festivals cannot ignore the existence of Chinese films.

On the other hand, objectively speaking, the Chinese film market is not mature, especially when it comes to arthouse films. Some directors have repeatedly run into obstacles when striving for artistic value in the Chinese market. The European festivals provide another way out for these arthouse films. Once the works are shortlisted and awarded at the European festivals, they may gain both a reputation and opportunities for overseas distribution. The excellent performance of Chinese films at European festivals nowadays shows that the achievements of Chinese filmmakers have been recognised by the international market.

Do you think there is a difference between a “festival film” and a “general film” for Chinese audiences?
The difference stems from the distribution strategy, I think. For the audience, there is only one standard: a good story.

What are the future prospects for collaboration between China and Europe?
In the past, Chinese films were not really open to the global film market. It was difficult to bring domestic movies out through the extremely limited overseas distribution channels. You can imagine that it was really not effective. When the model of "Chinese-foreign co-production" began to take shape, Chinese filmmakers had the opportunity to learn about foreign investment ideas and to collaborate with global distributors. They were able to integrate Chinese and Western cultures, and finally explore making films for a global audience by telling Chinese stories.

I think there will be more co-productions in the future. It is not only because of the urgent need felt by Chinese filmmakers to be connected to the global film market, but also because of the benefits that co-productions can bring to foreign investors. Co-productions are not subject to quota restrictions in China; they can be distributed in China just like domestic films, and they are eligible to obtain financial support and tax relief from the governments on both sides, so more and more countries are actively signing co-production treaties with China.

In recent years, most of the Chinese-French co-productions have had a medium or small budget, and the themes are about reality, with the intention of telling good stories. Although the directors, writers and editing teams of some of the movies were from France, they told true Chinese stories. The crew went deep into the country to show local conditions and the customs of different regions in China. They presented Chinese elements in a more connotative way. This kind of co-production provides a deeper and richer international perspective for telling Chinese stories, and allows more possibilities for developing co-produced cinematic art.

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