EU film fest brings arthouse cinema treats to China

EU film fest brings arthouse cinema treats to China
(From second left to right) Chinese director Wang Xiaoshuai, actress Deng Jiajia and director Lu Yang are invited as guests to the 2015 European Union Film Festival in China. [Provided to China Daily]

European arthouse hits, which usually reach mainland fans online or through DVDs, are now available to Chinese enthusiasts on the big screen, thanks to an ongoing high-profile event.

The 2015 European Union Film Festival in China, a cultural event celebrating the 40th anniversary of EU-China's diplomatic relations, is screening more than 40 feature and short films from all 28 EU member states.

The nearly 40-day event, which runs through Nov 6, will cover Beijing, Chengdu, Shenzhen and Jinan.

Among the movies being screened are the 2015 Oscar best foreign language film Ida, Cannes' Un Certain Regard winner White God, animation hit Song of the Sea and Cannes' Palme d'Or winner Dheepan.

Some of the other films being screened are Ernest and Celestine (Belgium), crowd-pleaser Cowboys (Croatia), star-studded thriller A Most Wanted Man (Germany), and Wim Wenders' beloved classic Wings of Desire (Germany).

Besides cinemas, Beijing moviegoers will also be able to view films at some European embassies and culture venues, such as the Embassy of Estonia, the Cervantes Institute and the Hungarian Cultural Institute.

Most top European festival circuit favorites have yet to be released for general viewing on the Chinese mainland as China currently allows only 34 foreign films to be screened every year in mainland theaters, and most of them are Hollywood blockbusters.

The Hollywood films typically come with heavy special effects and stellar casts but resemble each other in style.

Arthouse movies, on the other hand, which are artistically brilliant and thought-provoking, don't make it into China's movie market over fears about how they will perform commercially.

According to Hans Dietmar Schweisgut, the EU ambassador to China, though it is difficult to introduce European films to the world's second-largest movie market, Chinese fans of European productions should pay attention to film festivals, as it is a good platform to view the best selections from Europe, considering the current restrictions on imported titles.

"Watching a movie is something that enhances cultural exchange and mutual understanding," he tells China Daily

He says that this year the festival had made adjustments to cater to the growing trend where viewers watch films on mobile devices. Last year, the festival had 2 million online viewers.

Some of the films can be accessed online through iQiyi, one of the country's largest streaming-video platforms.

Asked about what kind of Chinese storylines and characters attract European moviegoers, Schweisgut says: "Though Chinese and European viewers are separated by long distances and look very different, my feeling is that European moviegoers' are interested in films that are about a basic understanding of life, changes in society and human relations ..."

"One of the reasons that Europeans are willing to see Chinese films is that they are attracted by what is shown in China today," he says.

Schweisgut says that Chinese directors should make efforts to shoot material that not only cater to Western tastes, but also make films "touching the hearts of the Chinese people".

His views are echoed by other festival participants who have close connections with the Chinese movie market.

Isabelle Glachant, Greater China representative of UniFrance, an organization dedicated to promoting French titles, tells China Daily that Europe is fascinated by Chinese-language movies that revolve around martial arts and reflect local life.

As examples she lists the semi-biographical drama 11 Flowers directed by Wang Xiaoshuai and the epic wuxia title Hero directed by Zhang Yimou.

Glachant, though impressed with the rapid growth of China's movie market, says that the overseas popularity and reputation of Chinese-language movies is falling and that foreign markets seem to be shying away from mainland productions.

The festival opened in Beijing on Sept 29.