A Chinese State-owned Film Studio Strives to Survive

2011/12/2 16:17:00 (Beijing Time)   Source:English.news.cn    By:

BEIJING, Nov. 20 (Xinhua) -- It might be hard, if not entirely impossible, for any film to attract an audience of 600 million in a single country.

But for China's Changchun Film Group Corporation (CFGC), pulling in audiences of that size was a simple feat in the glory days of the late 1970s.

Founded in 1945, the Changchun Film Studio, later known as the CFGC after transitioning to a corporate structure, is widely regarded as the cradle of modern Chinese film. The studio influenced generations of audiences with the country's first feature-length film "Qiao (Bridge)" (1949) and many other acclaimed works.

In 1979, the studio's small-budget spy thriller "Bao Mi Ju De Qiang Sheng," arguably the country's first non-propagandistic film following the disastrous ten-year Cultural Revolution, attracted 600 million spiritually starved filmgoers.

In Beijing cinemas, the film, depicting a communist disguised as a mole inside an enemy department in an effort to liberate Shanghai, was screened around the clock to meet viewing demand, according to historical records.

However, the grandeur did not last for long.

With the country's marketization process in full swing in the 1990s, many film talents swarmed to booming cities such as Beijing and Shanghai for privately-invested projects that promised more funding and freedom, leaving state-owned studios to their own devices.

"There were times when we could barely afford to make one film in a whole year," said senior film producer Xu Zhiwen. The 58-year-old Xu has been working at CFGC, located in the city of Changchun in northeast China's Jilin province, for 40 years.

According to Xu, the studio scraped along in the 1990s, releasing only three or four films each year and suffering profit losses for six years in a row.

In 1998, CFGC became the first studio to be restructured from an entirely government-funded institution to a corporate one. Absorbing independent film talents and social investment, the group set up 16 subsidiary companies, earning more than one million yuan (about 120,000 U.S. dollars) in 1999.

Before 1997, it suffered an accumulative loss of 30 million.

In 2004, the group became part of a nationwide trial reform program targeting the cultural industry. Employees were shuffled around based on their aptitude and offered social insurance. While the program relieved economic burdens and boosted creative capabilities, a reduced number of employees also triggered widespread objection.

"I was seriously against the reform back then. I felt like the company was just trying to get rid of people," Xu recalled, adding that he even made posters to encourage others to join the opposition.

However, opposing voices weakened as the company's business revival allowed employees and retirees to gain higher salaries and pensions, respectively, Xu said.

"Dou Niu (Cow)" (2009) was one of the company's post-reform masterpieces. The film, depicting a peasant who is tasked with protecting his village's dairy cow during a harsh winter prior to the founding of the "New China," received 7 nominations at the Golden Horse Film Festival in Taiwan and premiered in the "Orizzonti" category at the 66th Venice Film Festival.

This year, the group offered "1911," a historical epic directed by Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan and dedicated to the centennial anniversary of the 1911 Revolution, an event that marked the end of 2,000 years of imperial rule in China.

According to Xu, the company has started developing side businesses in addition to filmmaking, including film channels, film-themed parks and a production base for rural films aimed at the country's large population of rural residents.

The company also re-employed a group of retired film workers in 2008, allowing Xu to resume his producer role in the company's rural film production base, which has already made more than 100 films.

"I've stayed in Changchun for just half a month since February. For the rest of the time, I have been busy selecting scripts and shooting films," Xu said.

"It feels good to relive the old days," he added.

According to Xu, the CFGC is now willing to invest in better scripts and invite talented directors to shoot more projects. If a film achieves high box office sales or wins awards, the film's crew can receive bonuses.

"My passion for filmmaking is essential, but the government's encouraging policies also have positive effects on my enthusiasm for work," Xu said.

Xu believes more opportunities await him and the company, as China's leadership prioritized cultural development at a plenary session of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) held last month.

According to a landmark resolution on boosting cultural reform adopted at the session, the output of China's cultural industry is expected to account for 5 percent of China's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016, making the cultural industry "a pillar of the national economy."

The percentage in 2010 was 2.78 percent.

In order to meet the goal, China needs to deepen its reform of government-run for-profit cultural organizations by introducing a modern, market-oriented corporate system, according to Minister of Culture Cai Wu.

"The goal of reform is to cultivate qualified market entities from government-run commercial cultural organizations and establish a modern and influential cultural industry system," Cai said.

Xu, for his part, is ready to witness another glorious period for China's film industry.

"I've seen the highs. I've seen the lows. And now I want to make films for another ten years," he said.

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