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HONG KONG – Seven aspiring US directors will be heading to Beijing to shoot short films as part of an award they secured in a scriptwriting contest backed by the Chinese government.
Sponsored by the state-owned Beijing International Creative Industry Corporation, the Beijing International Screenwriting Competition unveiled its list of prize-winners on May 20. Fifteen winners – five in the feature-length category winners and eight in the short-film section will be flown to the Chinese capital on all-expenses-paid trips to receive their a cash prize of $1,000 in a ceremony on June 9.
In addition, the seven Grand Prize winners in the short-film category will be able to shoot their entries during their ten-day stay in Beijing, with a budget of no more than $10,000.
Unveiled in New York in March by the Beijing municipal government’s cultural assets office, the competition – which stipulates entrants to write material with references to Beijing – is seen as part of a campaign by the Chinese government to shape international perception of China through the production of American-made films about the country. In a mission statement, organizers say they hope the contest could see filmmakers “create compelling cinematic stories centered around Beijing and its rich, multifaceted culture”, and to “foster artistic collaboration between China and the US”.
“I am happy to see that they show a lot of creativity and a surprising amount of insight into life in Beijing and China,” said Tracey Trench, the veteran US producer and Oriental Dreamworks consultant who serves on the judging panel with filmmaker Mark Harris and Chinese director Zhang Heping.
“I have heard the ‘find and replace’ joke about writers just changing their location to Beijing,” Trench told The Hollywood Reporter before the announcement of the results. “But I am seeing that writers are finding clever and meaningful ways to give their projects a flavor of Beijing.”
The competition organizers are still hammering out plans about how the young US filmmakers could collaborate with their counterparts in Chinese film schools, Trench said.
“I am hoping that the writers have an amazing experience shooting their shorts in Beijing with the talented creative and technical minds at work in the film industry in China, particularly at a top university like the Beijing Film Academy,” she said. “And I expect that the young Chinese directors will benefit from their experience shooting with writers who have new perspectives on China, and who may plot out their stories in surprising ways.”
Trench said the completed short films will be shown on LeTV, the Chinese online video portal who are backing the contest alongside Harvardwood, a non-profit arts-and-entertainment organization set up by and for past and present staff and students from Harvard University.
“One of the fantastic elements of the screenwriting contest is that for the short films, Chinese distribution will be handled by the contest, and then the writers will own their films for the rest of the world,” she said. “They can submit their shorts to film festivals and seek out online distribution outside of China.”
The Grand Prize winners of the short film section areJ.S. Mayank’s You And Me, Pamela K. Anderson’s Morning Song, Maya Rudolph’s 701, Anita Gou’s Plight of the Honey Bee, Cameron White’s City Music,Lee Quarrie’s Patchwork Dreams and Crosby Selander’s You, Me, Beijing?
First-prize winners of the section are Ben Li’s The Final Test, Cody Marion’s Dumplings and Michael Thai’s Duck and Cover. Meanwhile, winners of the feature-film category are Tim Plaehn (The Panjiayuan Diary), Galen Tong (The Monkey King), Gary Shockley (Legend of Gong Shun Huui), Johnny Ma (Million Dollar Wedding Club) and Joshua Banta (TUSK).
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