Busan 2012: Chinese Indies Struggle to Go Global

Despite no shortage of quality content, independent filmmakers still rely on overseas sales companies for international exposure.

Boasting a wide array of entries at BIFF this year – including films by Zhang Yuan, Wang Ping, Lou Ye and Emily Tang, among others – independent Chinese filmmakers have again shown themselves to be a force in global cinema.

But there’s a missing link there: most, if not all, of these directors are heavily reliant on international sales companies to bring their work onto the global stage.

“It’s true there aren't that many important strong Asian sales companies – and there is almost none in China, where you mostly have companies selling their own films,” said Isabelle Glachant, the long-time Beijing-based French producer of Wang Xiaoshuai’s films through her Chinese Shadows shingle. “You don’t have a [Chinese equivalent of] Film Distribution or Celluloid Dream or Finecut; you have Huayi Brothers selling their own films.”

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In mainland China, Glachant said, the norm – in the mainstream, at least – is for vertically integrated companies to handle production, distribution and sales, as well as agents of actors.

“It totally makes sense for Bona or Huayi, but outside of those top five companies, when you’re outside their slots, what can you do? The ones who do best in selling arthouse films are Europeans, the exception being [Hong Kong’s] Fortissimo and [South Korea’s] Finecut.”

Indeed, Fortissimo is attending to Zhang’s Beijing Flickers, Wang’s An End to Killing (which counts among its co-producers Japan’s Satoru Iseki and Korea’s Jooick Lee) and Zhang Yang’s Full Circle, despite its financing by China Film Group. Another Hong Kong-based outfit, PAD International, is marketing Tang’s All Apologies, Peng Tao’s The Cremator and Li Ruijun’s Fly with the Crane. France’s Wild Bunch, meanwhile, is pushing Lou’s Mystery.

While it’s true that the same situation is present for indie productions in the region – the films of Thailand’s Palme d’Or winner, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, are also sold by European companies, Glachant pointed out – the mainland Chinese scenario is peculiar, given the widely-documented abundance of “soft money” accorded to directors in the country today.

While Glachant admitted the dependence on foreign sales companies might be perceived as a visible weakness for mainland Chinese indie filmmakers, she said what they need the most is advice on how to tailor scripts and editing for audiences beyond their home country.

“It’s fine to make a Chinese film, but you have to be careful that it’s the way cinema [language] is used outside China. It’s a problem if foreign audiences don’t get into the emotion of the film.”