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With a potential audience of 1.3 billion to serve, China’s nascent film festival circuit is far from full capacity.
The Shanghai International Film Festival is the country’s most established cinematic event, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. And the Beijing International Film Festival, turning six in April, is the government power center’s main movie business platform, which continues to grow each year. But the offerings are limited, given that China is on the cusp of surpassing North America as the world’s largest box-office territory.
In the backdrop, however, more modestly scaled movie events are beginning to crop up. The latest addition, coming in September, is the Just Film Festival, China’s first event dedicated exclusively to fantasy and sci-fi cinema.
“Sci-fi and fantasy are two of the hottest genres in the Chinese industry,” says Ma Heliang, Just’s founder and curator, who comes to the festival world from a background in film distribution.
Chinese news outlet Today’s Headlines reported last September of a “science fiction film investment fever,” saying that 85 sci-fi-related film projects were undertaken in China in just the first eight months of the year.
“Hollywood’s genre movies are very big in China, but the Chinese audience is eager to watch local fantasy and sci-fi films that show their own people and culture,” Ma adds.
The inaugural Just fest, to be held in September at the China Film Archive in Beijing, will start small, according to Ma. The event plans to screen 10 domestic features and 20 shorts in its first year. Through their partnership with the CFA, Ma hopes to get permission to import and screen international genre titles in future editions. But the priority is nurturing sci-fi and fantasy visionaries within the domestic scene.
“China has such a long history; there is a wealth of ancient literature with amazing stories to base fantasy films on — much more than just the Monkey King,” says Ma. “Also, technology is changing our way of life in a very big way in China. There are more and more young Chinese filmmakers who have original ideas and want to explore these genres on film — but there hasn’t been a platform to encourage them.”
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