Sino-French Co-Production Treaty Bears Fruit

Cost still a factor for European film productions.

HONG KONG -- Since signing a co-production treaty last year, France and Chinese-speaking territories have been collaborating more closely for a strategic partnership. The demand for exchange, according to the forum “France-Asia: Building a Meaningful Creative Partnership” held Monday, works both ways. 

“More Chinese teams want to film in France,” said Fang-Hui Wang, the Paris-based producer for Bayoo Asia.

“Competition for [Chinese] TV series is keen and they’re looking for international setting and new experiences. They want romance and lifestyle of foreign countries in their stories.” 

Franco-Chinese co-productions were not uncommon even before the bilateral treaty was signed, primarily through the French investment in arthouse Asian directors such as Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Tsai Ming-liang. But the funding sources have gone wider and more proactive in recent years. 

The French National Cinema Center (CNC), which promotes co-productions between China and France, now secures 700 million Euros ($993 million) to subsidize co-production for television and cinema. 

“The film co-produced under the treaty becomes bi-national, which allows access to French investment,” said Julien Ezanno, who is responsible for international co-production at the center. “It can be very helpful for distribution, and can be interesting for the life of the film.” 

Still, cost is a continuing battle for many Chinese producers wanting to film in Europe.  

“Even if we film abroad our target is Chinese audiences,” Wang said. “The French don’t understand why China as the second-largest economic power can’t invest more in film. We need more research and communication.” 

Administrative and cultural differences are also an obstacle when filming abroad. 

“Production time in China is rapid,” Wang said. “We can produce a script while we’re filming. To film in France we must decide the scale in advance and understand the kind of script we are going to film. We need to handle the timing very well. Filming in France is not as flexible as in China.” 

After all, France is one of the lucrative markets for Asian arthouse films and an organic interest exists between Asian directors and French audiences. 

“There is a strong interest in Asian films among the French film companies and film festivals,” said Olivier-Rene Veillon, executive director of Ile de France, a French film commission. “There’s a natural ecosystem. French sales companies bring Asian cinema to worlds that are sometimes little-known in their home countries. That is the tradition of French cinema.”