BFI CEO talks Britain-China film connections

Amanda Nevill, the CEO of the British Film Institute (BFI), appeared at China Exchange on Dec. 15, 2015, to talk about the BFI and its film-related activities with China, including the process of finalizing the Britain-China co-production treaty and the challenges that exist in creating Britain-China co-productions.
Amanda Nevill, the CEO of the British Film Institute (BFI), appeared at China Exchange on Dec. 15, 2015, to talk about the BFI and its film-related activities with China. [Photo/China.org.cn]
Nevill explained that as the leading body for film in Britain, the BFI has to work internationally because Britain is one of the main centers for film production in the world. The BFI started looking at the territories the British film industry should be engaging with, and it quickly became apparent that China was right up at the top of the list. The vast size of the box-office in China, with roughly three cinemas opening a day, is continually growing.
Up until Apr. 23, 2014, there had been some seven years of attempts to gain a co-production treaty with China before the BFI finally managed to secure a deal. The co-production treaty means any films co-produced by China and Britain can bypass the strict quota system China has for foreign films, which is currently set at 34 per year.
Nevill says the process of eventually gaining the co-production treaty was a real lesson in international relations. As part of the BFI archive's activities, many of Alfred Hitchcock's early silent films had been preserved and conserved as part of the cultural side of 2012 Olympics in Britain. One of these films was taken to China, and the BFI entered into what Neville calls a cultural partnership with China. They commissioned a Chinese composer to create music for the silent Hitchcock film, which was presented at the opening of the Shanghai Film Museum. Thus the British film plus Chinese composer's music melded the two cultures together.
Nevill stated that negotiations around the co-production treaty really started between the BFI and China as a result of this "cultural handshake."
Nevill was present on the British prime minister's 2013 trip to China where further talks were carried out. The BFI also found some very early Chinese film material in their archive, most of which was filmed by British journalists or travelers in China. This footage was given to China, and as a culmination of all these things, the co-production treaty was eventually signed.
Now that this treaty has been signed, the biggest challenge is to actually get some co-productions between Britain and China off the ground. One of the biggest challenges according to Nevill is that British producers need to understand what Chinese audiences want, and Chinese producers need to understand what British audiences want. The BFI have started to put together a program to help each side better understand the other, by bringing Chinese producers over to Britain and sending UK producers to China.
Nevill states that she thinks American cinema is more commercially savvy, for instance in the way that several American films have recently weaved Chinese-related segments into the stories. Nevill hopes that with the Britain-China co-production treaty, there can be a real cultural meeting of minds. She says she thinks both Britain and China are both nations with real original storytellers and so if the BFI can get both Chinese and British producers to work together, something really interesting could be made.

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