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China may save global cinema from final curtain, expert says

JAN . 11 2021
Peking University, January 11, 2021: Film sector recovering after challenging year and could write a script for other countries to emerge from the downturn that caused such box-office havoc.

In the unusual year of 2020, cinemas in some major markets in Europe and North America have had to close again or delayed resuming operations for the foreseeable future.

Overtaking North America to top the world's film market in terms of yearly box-office receipts from late October, China's film industry has seen a slow recovery. Hauling in a total gross of 17.9 billion yuan ($2.73 billion) as of December 18 in 2020, less than 30 percent of the 64.1 billion yuan earned last year, domestic filmmakers are still struggling to survive this industrial "winter".

Nevertheless, Dai Jinhua, a Peking University film scholar who has published dozens of academic books, with most of them being translated to various languages including English, French, Italian and Spanish believes China could be the last hope for the survival of world cinema.

Dai Jinhua
"COVID-19 has been going on for nearly one year with no end in sight. Its impact on global cinema is inevitable and unprecedented," Dai tells China Daily on the sidelines of a summit organized by Tencent to explore the boundary between science and culture in Beijing.

"If the Chinese film industry could maintain (normal operation), world cinema will have a chance of survival. If the Chinese film industry is going to decline, the global film industry will be on the brink of death, which, I'm afraid, may never be reversed," she says.

Also serving as director of the Film and Culture Research Center of Peking University, Dai is one of the major initiators to found the country's first major in movie history at the Beijing Film Academy in the 1980s before she was transferred to the Institute of Comparative Literature and Culture of Peking University in 1993.

Before the outbreak of COVID-19, Dai had traveled to the United States to give lectures or take part in academic projects dozens of times in the previous two years.

Even before the outbreak, cinemas struggled with the internet "encroaching", seeing more and more youngsters shift interest to streaming services or video-sharing apps, says Dai.

Last year, the domestic box office hit a three-year low in terms of annual growth as the size of China's video cloud market increased 46.3 percent more than 2018, according to statistics from China Film Administration and International Data Corp's China subsidiary.

The world's ongoing battle against COVID-19 may continue to raise tension between cinema chains and internet platforms, causing many directors' works, tailored for the giant screen, to be seen just on laptops or smartphones.

Earlier this month, Warner Bros announced the simultaneous release of all its films-including the major sci-fi tales The Matrix 4 and Dunein theaters and on the streaming platform HBO Max throughout 2021. Last week, Disney announced its plan to premiere 15 all-new live-action and animated movies directly on its streaming service Disney Plus over the next few years.

With a deep love of cinema, Dai says she believes that watching a movie in a physical theater cannot be replaced for its social function and distinctive experience brought by giant screen.

In the recently published book Gei Haizi De Dianying (Movies for Children), edited by Dai and written by a team of scholars, Dai wrote in the prologue about the charm and influence of classic films.

"An excellent movie could be a museum of the mind, or a miniature of the world. Despite it (the thoughts learned from films) cannot be converted into cash, it could be your spiritual treasure that no one else can take away," she writes.

Predicting the future of Chinese cinema, Dai says the market had once expanded too fast, with most of its sections ranging from script writing to post production procedure yet to form a mature and standardized system.

"The Chinese film industry needs to make progress in a more stable and sound way," she says. "Besides, cinema is a type of artistic and cultural product, making its major value established on exploring humanity or reflecting societal issues. The importance of relatable storytelling should never be underestimated."

Although theaters are currently struggling with a lackluster market, Dai says China's population of 1.4 billion indicates it can provide a huge audience base to secure a promising prospect.

"Even in case of a worst situation, if the domestic market is forced to shrink to a smaller scale, the number of audiences will still be big enough to support the film industry," she says.

Source: China Daily