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Sixth Generation Filmmaker Jia Zhangke Frowns Upon Cookie-Cutter Films

The respected filmmaker believes it’s best to create an environment where all kinds of films can thrive — not just blockbusters

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Jul 12, 2022 1 mins read

Internationally renowned film maestro Jia Zhangke’s recent statements on China’s film industry resonated with many Chinese movie enthusiasts: The monopoly of leitmotif films in the Chinese entertainment industry, as has been the case in the past few years, is less than ideal.


A Q&A-style interview with the filmmaker, published on July 7, has been widely circulated on WeChat and garnered more than 10,000 reads (a high threshold for most WeChat articles).


In the article, Jia shares his observation of the Chinese film market since the start of the pandemic. While he acknowledges the pandemic’s harmful effects on the shrinking film industry, its diversity of titles, and international cultural exchanges, he also believes that some problems will persist long after the pandemic.


“Underneath the pandemic are other crises that the Chinese film [market] faces,” reads one of his answers to the interviewer.


Jia Zhangke

Jia Zhangke in 2008


Not only has the film industry been plagued by a monotonous prototype of successful films over the past years, but it also faces much uncertainty concerning the future of avant-garde, experimental, and arthouse films.


“To put it bluntly, nobody knows how long it takes for those [avant-garde] films to get a license,” explained the filmmaker. “This kind of certainty brings tremendous anxiety to the industry.”


On the contrary, the certainty of leitmotif films being greenlighted makes them get the lion’s share of investment.


“So we can’t make the Chinese film market the one-product sale store for leitmotif films. It’s an irresponsible practice for not only Chinese cinema but also our offspring and Chinese culture,” he says.


Although Jia’s observations are nothing new, they have resonated with many netizens. Some top-liked comments beneath the article include, “Finally, a big name has said it as it is,” and “It (the topic) is hard to vocalize, as many are playing dumb.”


Since winning numerous awards at Europe’s top three film festivals (Venice Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival, and Berlin International Film Festival), Jia has become a household name in Chinese arthouse cinema and successfully entered the ‘mainstream.’


Nevertheless, the filmmaker heavily promotes arthouse films and supports the growth of young filmmakers through efforts such as establishing the Pingyao International Film Festival in 2017. And who better to cast an eye on China’s filmmaking ecosystem than the established figure?


“When we talk about the problem that films have, it all boils down to the economy. The economic downturn has been a blow to the industry,” said the creative.


Earlier in May, Chinese authorities listed the country’s cultural sector — which encompasses film, television, radio, arts, and entertainment — as an “extremely difficult” one to revive. The government even decreed a holdover of social security payments for companies in the aforementioned industries, which have been “hit hard by Covid and with operation difficulties.”


Since July, however, the market has gradually been getting out of the woods. In addition to the reopening of cinemas, several new films, such as Lighting Up the Stars, have become immediate blockbuster hits.


That being said, what Jia wants is stability. “I’m yearning for Chinese cinema to return to an era of certainty so that we can all contribute to the film industry,” concluded the filmmaker.


Cover image via Depositphotos

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