august 31
september 10

Writing the future together

To understand the new directions art and the film industry are taking, perhaps we should take a look at what's happening in China. With these words of advice ANAC president Francesco Martinotti officially launched the third China Film Forum. Promoted by Venice Days together with Bridging the Dragon and Doc/it, the event is aimed at writers and directors and their stories that can serve to bridge the distance between Europe and China, two cultures and two film cultures.

The president of ANAC went on to stress that China has its eye on Italian films as well. One example? A film like Mountains May Depart by Jia Zhangke, which here and there recalls We All Loved Each Other So Much by Ettore Scola.

For 100autori, its president Francesco Bruni introduced a number of topics as the Forum got underway, such as comedy and the self-censorship that is rife among writers and filmmakers, both Italian and Chinese. Comedy, of course, is a form of entertainment, but also a way to face serious matters in an amusing way. To writers and directors, therefore, censorship is a crucial issue.

Maurizio Sciarra, moderator for the morning session, and hard at work for years now on a co-production project with China, announced that he was pleased about the proceedings the night before (read the article), and not just for the financial agreements, as newsworthy as they were, but for acknowledgment of the central importance of scripts to films: "All over the world, screenwriters have become the driving force behind the film industry."

Shu Huan, one of the writers and creators of the hit 2012 film Lost in Thailand, directed by Zheng Xu, observed that more and more people in China are investing in audiovisual works. However, he also said that one of the recent Italian films he liked best, Perfect Strangers by Paolo Genovese, would have a hard time in China since audiences prefer purely entertaining comedies that don't touch on day-to-day issues. Many foreign films, he said, struggle on the Chinese market. For this very reason, Shu Huan concluded, co-productions play a fundamental role in bringing stories that are not directly Chinese to the screen.

Yuan Yuan, a writer on Go Away Mr. Tumor, the 2015 film by Han Yan, said she agreed with the remarks by the speakers who preceded her. She feels that the major production companies need to think less about the financing from co-productions and more about the kind of stories to write together, and give screenwriters the recognition they deserve. Cooperation on the creative front is the key to success.

Paolo Genovese, whose Perfect Strangers attracted international attention and acclaim after breaking records at the box office in Italy, said that it's important to take risks: producing original projects that challenge audiences and serve as their guide to a virgin territory. The winner of the 2016 David di Donatello feels that the cultural limitations of writers, producers and distributors may consist, at times, in delivering films that are far too tried-and-true, in the belief that audiences should be indulged in seeking out things that are altogether familiar to them.

Sergio Basso, who, unlike most film professionals, speaks Chinese and has already focused on China in a documentary about Milan's Chinatown (Giallo a Milano), is now working on a new film, The Long March, thanks to a collaboration with Beijing TV Station.

Basso feels that collaboration mainly depends on a familiarity that is a two-way street, so that each player can understand the world of the other. "Thanks to this co-production, we found the underlying theme, through the story of a young couple that retraced the route of the historic Long March. It was a way to tell a story from the past through the emotions and perspectives of the present."

For his part, Andrea Cicini (InThinker Studio) mentioned that he met Basso three years ago. Both on the lookout for new opportunities, they managed to make a film that brought them into contact with a working environment that was highly professional yet prized humility.

Another example of a successful Sino-Italian co-production is Coffee by Cristiano Bortone, a Venice Days special event. In describing the collaboration, the director said, "This is a job that takes flexibility and determination, one that needs to dispense with all prejudices and preconceived notions on both sides, but can really open the gates to the largest market in the world, which is showing an openness to novelty."

"At the Villa degli Autori," observed Maurizio Sciarra in his closing remarks at the morning session, "something happened today that is breathtaking simple: writers and directors from these two key film industries worked together to find ways and mediums to undertake a collaboration that is not a tired formula, by starting with the legitimate disorientation a writer or director feels when talking about a world they didn't know before. And this is the only way to create models and stories that are not ephemeral; that are attractive to such very different audiences without the predictable operation of making stories all uniform. European film will have a chance in China only if it provides a point of view that diverges from the obvious."

The China Film Forum wrapped up with a workshop in which many players took part. Ben Ji (producer and Managing Director of Reach Glory Media & Entertainment Group) was asked to talk about current trends and future prospects for the Chinese market. And to Ben Ji that future looks bright, despite the economic crisis which has affected his country as well. Next Wu Sisi (General Manager for project development at Jetavana Entertainment) stressed how important it is to do one's homework and be prepared when taking on the Chinese market. Charles Lei (CEO of Thunder Communications International) concluded the first half of the afternoon session by observing that for each country, the greatest challenge is facing one's own "dogmas".

The last part of the Forum, moderated by Agnese Fontana, president of Doc/it, was devoted to documentary films. Speakers included Rosario Di Girolamo, head of R&D - Doc/it, Ning Yuqi, (Director of Overseas Business Development at GZDoc), Yu Zhou (Deputy Director of General Office Sino-Italian Campus, Tongji University), Vivien Sha (South Area Regional Manager Nielsen - CCdata) and Jürg Neuenschwander (College of Arts and Media, Tongji University).


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