06 décembre 2011

Tough sell (Chinese indies)

Karin Chien : "It's a tough sell. Foreign language cinema is a tough sell in the US. Subtitles... Also there is no previous tradition of this kind of cinema showing in the US. So a large part of our mission is not only to distribute the films but to educate the audiences, to grow the audience, to create the audience for these films. I started my film career in Asian-American independent cinema. that's another sector where we have to create the audience for a film. So I kind of come from that tradition. So I understand what that means and what that entails. But it is a lot of work. Sometimes I look North (to Canada) or West (to Europe). The films we distribute in the US are shown theatrically in these other countries, that get a lot of support, go to Cannes, win awards at Venice, and Locarno, have series playing at Berlin and Rotterdam. They are really well-fed across the sea, and they are also really supportive in Canada. And when we come here, it's starting over a little bit. And starting that education process. The people who see these films usually fall in love with them or find something really amazing to hold onto in the film. So we're grateful for that. And like you said, institutions like MoMA or the NYT, do come out and support the films, put their money where their mouth is, put it in print or in the theatre. And that's incredibly important. It is sometimes a constant uphill battle, bring foreign indie cinema, anything with subtitles to an American audience. [..]"
Filmwax; Webcast by Adam Schartoff; #1110: Interview with Karin Chien, film producer and President of dGenerate Films (16 Nov 2011) [MP3] 28'23"
Great discourse, great interview. However, this falls under "partial publicity campaign" (even if I agree with its content, and it's quite objective in itself). What I mean is that a producer-distributor talking to the guy who exhibits the films, both have an obvious interest in the stakes. They won't say the films are bad, or that the audience shouldn't come. Thus the necessity of an independent branch of the marketing trail : the film criticism. It's better when all this is spoken and published by a third party, an independent mediator, who is the film critic. I know this distributor and this local exhibitor do their job out of love, and incidentally for a kind of independent art cinema I personally prefer. But these films need to be defended by people who won't make money out of its screenings. 
I'm not dismissing anything they did, but it's preaching to the choir at this scale. For the message to go out and to gain public exposure, it needs to be relayed by the independent media. Only then, reading the same type of discourse in the press, would Film Culture be able to move forward. 

I noted that Karin Chien first mention "commercial distribution" in Europe for independent Chinese cinema, and when the host comes back to that point, Karin answers a different side of the question (that she had nothing to do with the distribution in Europe) but sounded like "no they are not distributed" because of a confusing jump in the conversation. I guess listeners unfamiliar with the world market might misunderstand this key point (because the host get a "no" answer to his follow up, which he hoped to see Karin develop : about how such films get a proper commercial release (not direct-to-DVD) in Europe, because of its (subsidies-backed) art house circuit, which is quasi-non-existent in the USA. I thought it was an important point to emphasize there.
I believe it's important to explain to the public why an arthouse circuit functions in Europe (by picking up daring titles and taking risks to show them even if the audience takes weeks to come in). While in the USA these films are only screened on 1 or 6 screens nationwide, and it is impossible to build a word of mouth that way or to reach out to the niche that would want to see them. 

The host mentions certain reservations regarding "subtitles" that are too revealing of a reticent mentality. If he shows artfilms at his venue, why would he draw attention to the bad quality of subtitles... which further alienate an already intimidated audience.
The problem of bad translated subtitles (which I'm familiar with also in Paris) is only a tangential issue. It's because there is not enough time and money to subtitle a film that will only circulate on one print! Poor budget films have poorly made subtitles (usually). But it's something we should learn to ignore... If we start to become as nitpicky as a multiplex audience (complaining about everything that doesn't look crispy clean like a Hollywood release, sound quality, image quality, number of prints, proximity of the theatre, screen size, early release, and in the case of foreign cinema subtitles), then the artfilm circuit pales in comparison and has lost before a chance to show us anything. If you're a film lover, you overlook the obvious shortcomings of a small-budget-release, and are thankful of being able to see it at all. If the first audience that gets to see the films doesn't endure the (bad) subtitles, then there is no chance for the film to make money and get a better distribution later. Since this webcast was obviously meant to support the indie scene, it is counter-productive to bring up such detail in the grand scheme of things : which is to get undecided movie goers to make an effort to see a film that is visible on very few supports, in very few places, for a very limited time...
Artfilm re-familiarisation starts with education and without the old clichés about "bad art film screenings", particularly in the USA!
In France we haven't worked out the fail-proof subtitles yet (essentially limited to festival screenings of undistributed indie films). In the USA, you have bigger worries : to get the films SCREENED at all, bad subtitles or not. Solve one problem at the time.
Hopefully the transition to full digital projections will improve the condition of subtitles, and lower the cost of "soft" subtitles, and the ease of correcting a subtitle file rather than having to print a new copy  of the celluloid reel with hard subs on.

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"China is a nation on the move - and Chinese movies are no exception. Here you'll find the world's fastest growing movie industry, where luxury Cineplex’s with 3D projectors and IMAX screens cater to a booming leisure class.
Chinese movie theaters raked in $1.5 billion last year and are expected to make more money in the next five years than even American movie theaters. Now Chinese moviegoers still prefer to watch Hollywood imports, but there have been a few breakout hits from the mainland.
Let the Bullets Fly is a rollicking, action-packed period comedy in which high-level swindlers face off with a powerful bandit played by Chow-Yun Fat. This year it became Mainland China's all-time top-grossing movie, beating the record set last year by Aftershock, a remarkable drama about a 1976 earthquake that killed over 200,000 people. It's directed by Feng Xiaogang, who is so successful in China that he's been called the Chinese Steven Spielberg. Neither of these blockbusters are officially available in the US, but another important film is coming soon to home-video : City of Life and Death [..]"
From escapist entertainment to reality, Kevin Lee reports on Chinese cinema today. (dGenerate; 28 Oct 2011) video 4'48"
Ebert presents at the Movies, which used (commissioned?) the above videoclip, re-edited it down to 3'41" by cutting out half of the paragraph cited above (about the fact very popular Chinese blockbusters of excellent quality are NOT distributed in the USA). I wonder why....? Well it's better to talk a bit about China than nothing at all, you're going to say. Sure. And they do show all the part about the indie niche of Chinese cinema; which in a way, is better for film culture, but also a lesser competition for the American domestic market. Pick and choose. I guess that's the mantra of the mainstream media with (fabricated) airtime constraints.