China to Decentralize Censorship Process for Local Films

Provincial film bureaus will be given authority to independently review movies, part of a plan to streamline the lengthy approval process.

China’s top film regulator is planning to decentralize the censorship process for local movies, granting bureaus in the provinces the power to examine films, as part of an effort to streamline the approvals process.

As it stands, filmmakers face lengthy waiting periods for approval of their movies from the Film Bureau in Beijing, which is part of the official watchdog, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT).

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Hong Kong actor/director Jackie Chan and leading mainland Chinese director Feng Xiaogang made passionate pleas this week for less censorship of their films in China at a high-level Communist Party meeting in Beijing.

The move is due to happen in April and in theory it means that local films will get to cinemas more quickly. What is not clear is whether the change will mean it is easier for local directors to get controversial content past censors.

The censorship of imported Hollywood films, and co-productions with international firms, will remain under the control of the central Film Bureau in Beijing. 

A Touch Of Sin director Jia Zhangke told the entertainment section of website Sina that it was difficult to evaluate what impact the move would have on the film industry. He said he wasn't sure if it will translate into added leeway for directors or if it was simply an internal change at the censorship unit.

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“If this system can be carried out smoothly, it is a good thing for the film industry, so it can reduce the operating time and improve the efficiency and it can also make the filmmakers’ work more convenient -- a good change. If the power is not that centralized, it is also a signal that the censorship system will make some changes,” said Jia.

The news has not yet appeared on the Film Bureau’s website, but the cultural committee in the southwestern city of Chongqing posted a notice saying the move was intended to “further improve the administrative efficiency and the service quality of the film production companies.”

The central responsibility for censorship still remains with the chief regulator, which is still often referred to as the State Administration of Radio, Film and TV (SARFT) despite a merger last year of responsibilities with the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP).

SARFT will retain responsibility for the censorship of national films, for censoring movies produced by central government and military film production companies, and the censorship of imported films and co-productions with overseas firms.

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“It will also be responsible for reviewing the films that are censored by the provincial bureaus, responsible for handling the film release license and responsible for the censorship of the film if the film production company has some objections to the decision,” the Chongqing authorities said.

In July 2010, the provinces of Jilin, Guangdong, Zhejiang, Shanxi and Hubei were given approval to examine films produced in their jurisdictions.

Director Xie Fei welcomed the decision to allow provincial authorities to censor local content.

“People who broadcast it should be responsible for the censorship. It is like a newspaper. The newspaper should censor their own content and the film should be the same. Every region and cinemas should censor their content. Film ratings should be decided by a film association,” said Xie.