Chinese Directors' Guild Urges Reforms, Launch of Film Ratings System

China Dragons Illustration - P 2014
Illustration by: Lars Leetaru

China Dragons Illustration - P 2014

A film classification system could make it easier for Hollywood studios to know where they stand on getting their films into China.

China's Film Directors' Guild has issued a strident online manifesto urging wide-scale industry reforms, including a call for the establishment of a ratings system. This would make clearing censorship easier and could help Hollywood films looking to enter the world's second-largest film market.

The appeal went out on the Sina Weibo social network after a meeting of mainland Chinese, Taiwanese and Hong Kong directors earlier this month, which included some of biggest names in Chinese-language cinema, such as top mainland Chinese directors Li Shaohong, He Ping (Warriors of Heaven and Earth, Wheat), Gu Changwei and Taiwan's Hou Hsiao-Hsien. They appealed for broad changes across the industry, with the core focus being a call for a ratings system that they said should replace the current one-size-fits-all censorship system.

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As it stands, only films deemed suitable for all ages are released in China, and part of the rigorous censorship process is aimed at supporting this notion, with the Film Bureau making the necessary cuts to movies.

However, many in the local business believe that if there was a reliable ratings system, it would allow more leeway on the censorship front, giving filmmakers more scope to make better movies. Such a system could also clarify things for Hollywood studios trying to bring their movies to China and possibly some more leeway for somewhat riskier fare.

Last year, the guild made news when it declined to give a best director or best movie award, saying the standard in China wasn't high enough.

The directors said the film industry was too concentrated on box office and marketing, which was causing problems with the quality of content. "We call for our industry to focus on the culture and enhance film quality in order to leave an imprint of lasting value for the era," they wrote in their manifesto.

"Secondly, with the number of films and screens growing rapidly and as popular culture evolves, to protect consumers, especially young people's physical and mental health and the filmmakers' artistic creative space, there is an urgent need for a film rating system," the manifesto added. "Therefore, we call for mainland China to actively discuss and promote a film rating system ASAP."

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The directors' third main point was a call for self-regulation of the industry, with producers, script writers and others taking responsibility for meeting the government's requirements, to ensure greater creativity.

A fourth point was a suggestion that both the film business and the government should encourage the screening of more classic movies, documentaries and art house films by setting up more indie-style cinemas or having cinemas in colleges.

"Fifth, Chinese films should actively respond positively to the new generation of audiences and aesthetic changes. We hope some famous directors can set up examples to lead young generation directors and have more tolerance for film innovation," the manifesto said.

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The China Independent Film Festival gave a strong endorsement to the appeal on its official Sina Weibo site, saying "abolishing film censorship and implementing a film ratings system is usual international practice and an industry requirement, and it's what people want."

The directors Wang Xiaoshuai (Beijing Bicycle, 11 Flowers), Gao Qunshu (The Message, Golden Horse award-winner Beijing Blues) and Tung-Shing Yee all retweeted this post to express their support.

Twitter: @cliffordcoonan