Beijing International Film Festival Postponed in Response to Coronavirus

Beijing Film Festival 2017 - Getty - H 2020
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images for IWC Schaffhausen

The delay of the Chinese government's flagship film event from its usual window in late April was long expected, but it also suggests cinemas in the world's most populous country may not be reopening anytime soon.

The Chinese government's flagship cinema event, the Beijing International Film Festival, has postponed its April 2020 edition, a move long expected amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis sweeping the globe.

Organizers said a new launch date for the event, which was set to celebrate its 10th anniversary this year, would be unveiled in the coming weeks or months in accordance with local efforts to control the virus epidemic.

The festival's organizing committee issued the following statement late Friday night in China: "In order to cooperate with the overall situation of the COVID-19 prevention work at the present stage, the 10th BIFF, which was originally scheduled to be held in Beijing in late April 2020, has been postponed for the sake of the safety and health of the festival guests, fans, media, partners and the public, as well as according to suggestions of the film festival guidance department, sponsor and experts from all circles."

Given the drastic measures China has employed to contain the coronavirus — including a lockdown on nearly 60 million people in Hubei Provence — the delay of the film festival in the country's capital comes as little surprise. The majority of China's vast theatrical exhibition outlay, comprising an estimated 70,000 movie screens, remains idle as the country continues to struggle to resume full economic activity.

Although China appears to be gaining the upper hand against the virus — on Saturday, officials reported just 99 new infections, down from over 2,000 per day weeks ago — most industry insiders don't expect mass moviegoing to resume in the country until late April or early May at the soonest. Many are reading the suspension of BIFF in April as a bearish indicator. 

With the virus' spread accelerating in Europe, North America and other parts of Asia, Chinese officials have begun to turn their concerns toward preventing infection from outside the country. International public health experts also have questioned whether China's containment of the virus will prove sustainable once full-scale transportation and business activity in the country resumes.

In late February, China's Film Bureau released guidelines for the eventual reopening of movie theaters, but no date for implementation has been officially suggested. The requirements give a sense of how challenging the reboot could be. Movie theater operators will be asked to record the names and addresses of all customers, check their temperatures, require the wearing of masks, make sure that there is one empty seat between patrons in every direction and sanitize public spaces regularly.

The Beijing Film Festival's postponement follows the scrapping of scores of other entertainment industry events around the globe, including SXSW in the U.S., MIPTV in Cannes, France, Disney's London launch event for Disney+ in Europe, Hong Kong's Filmart content market, and many others.