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A roller-coaster ride for Chinese art-house movies

The soil for developing art-house movies is the film audience. In Europe, for decades there have existed large groups of fervent art-house movie fans that appreciate films with their own independent thinking and unique perspectives. Such an appreciation of art-house films paved the way for major international film festivals such as Berlin, Venice, and Cannes to take place. These film festivals always open their arms for auteur filmmakers around the world; in 2005, they welcomed Chinese auteur directors.

Therefore the first step is to develop art-house movie fans. And the government should step in to set up art-house cinemas and an art-house screening mechanism, to allow more art-house films to be seen.

Second, and more importantly, art-house movies should have their own marketing strategies and positioning to open up spaces for themselves amid the commercial-ridden film market.

The recognitions at international film festivals, for example, can be a perfect marketing strategy. As filmmaker Jia Zhangke noted, international film festival, by nature, provides an opportunity for art-house films to face the commercial environment. All major film festivals, such as Cannes, Berlin, and the American Film Market (AFM), have a well-operated film market conducting international trades for movies. Film festivals are not just arenas of competition, but also the best opportunities for films to do international promotion.

Take Zhang Yang's Sunflower as an example. While the film sold poorly in the domestic market, it's international sales have done well enough to let the film cover its production cost.

To push art-house films in the domestic market, there is also room for further action. The point is to transfer the values and quality of art-house films into commercial values. Through well-designed premieres, and by creating news topics and discussions, or by producing impressive advertisements, a low-budgeted film, such as Zhang Yang's 3-million-yuan Spicy Love Soup, can also create a gross of 30 million yuan.

Last year was an unforgettable one for Chinese auteur filmmakers, as they experienced a roller coaster ride of emotions, from the joy of winning acclaim at international film festivals to the disappointment of seeing a poor box office. But such a ride can be a turning point for both filmmakers and distributors. To make art-house films sellable and more marketable, they have to bravely take on a series of new tasks.


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