Why the UK film industry should pay attention to Shanghai International Film Festival
Updated 08:39, 16-Jun-2019
Hiu Man Chan

Editor's note: Hiu Man Chan is a researcher specializing in policy and strategies related to creative industry collaboration between the UK, EU and China. She is currently associated with JOMEC, Cardiff University. The article reflects the author's opinion, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Opened on June 15, Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF) is the only festival in China recognized by the Federation Internationale des Associations de Producteurs de Films. It is also recognized by cinephiles in the country as the most professional festival in terms of its programming.

Organizers of this year's festival, held June 15-24, have arranged over 500 films from around the world to entertain its audience. Most of the tickets are out since ticket sales went live on June 8. Within one minute when the sales were available online, 40,252 tickets were sold via Tao Piaopiao, the festival's official online ticket-selling platform. 

The organizing committee of 2019 Shanghai International Film & TV Festival held a press conference in Beijing on May 23, 2019. /CGTN Photo

The organizing committee of 2019 Shanghai International Film & TV Festival held a press conference in Beijing on May 23, 2019. /CGTN Photo

Such public enthusiasm is what motivates the organizing committee to improve their service each year. The festival is committed to bringing as many international films to the local audience as possible.

Though not well known as the three major film festivals in Europe (Cannes, Berlin and Venice), SIFF is certainly one of the largest in the world. This scale enables participants to include films from as many countries as they can.

While Cannes is famous for its red carpet and glamour, its festival program features a certain "French" taste in selecting foreign films. 

Some directors have become Cannes' favorites, such as Jia Zhangke from China and Ken Loach from the UK. Its elite style of its programming nevertheless excludes many new talents and it is very difficult for young filmmakers to be introduced on an international stage.

If we look at SIFF's program this year, we realize that the Shanghai event intends to create a different atmosphere.

Director Jia Zhangke works in the studio. /VCG Photo

Director Jia Zhangke works in the studio. /VCG Photo

In its 22nd edition, SIFF is still learning but certainly learning quickly. In addition to including selected films that appeared at Cannes this year, SIFF has also included films from countries not well known for its film industry. For example, several films from Latvia were selected this year. Germany, France and Italy continue to be the festival audience's favorites.

The foreign offices of these countries even propose nation-specific screening category and collaboration with the festival, in order to maintain a strong presence and cultural relevance to the Chinese audience.

Although there are more than 20 UK films selected at this year's SIFF, a coherent identity of UK films is invisible across this list. Furthermore, the UK film industry should pay more attention to SIFF beyond their usual preference in Cannes. The film sector in the UK has been considered the most important component in the broader creative industries. However, the film industry in the UK has also been too reliant on the U.S. and EU market.

This economic and cultural connection to some extent, has limited artistic exploration in its filmmaking practice, as most filmmakers have a frame of mind of telling a "British" story to these two familiar markets. To Chinese audience, in particular cinephiles, show a preference toward films from Germany, France or Italy but are not aware of what exactly a UK film should look like.

Shanghai Film Art Center /VCG Photo

Shanghai Film Art Center /VCG Photo

The most well-known UK media brand in China is perhaps the BBC, but that is now associated closer with the TV sector rather than film. Each year before the SIFF, it has proved to be difficult to encourage filmmakers from the UK to submit their films to the festival. As a result, the UK filmmakers have missed out on the most important platform and opportunity for their films to enter the second most vibrant film market in the world.

SIFF is the ultimate showcase opportunity to help a foreign film be picked up for national release across cinemas in China. This is an event that should not be ignored by filmmakers who want to share their work with a more international audience.

The attraction for the UK film industry to become more enthusiastic with the SIFF is not only the potential large-scale box offices, but also to challenge its fragmentary film industry, its cinematic tradition and to take up new opportunities in exploring a new identity for UK films.

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