In August of 2014, the news that Liu Wen, director of Chinese documentary channel CCTV-9, was being arrested by authorities on suspicion of corruption placed a chill over the documentary production industry in China, and by extension, international coproductions involving China. But according to Yves Jeanneau, CEO of Sunny Side Markets and organizer of the annual documentary conference Asian Side of the Doc, a thaw has slowly but surely begun.
“The CCTV-9 problem was bad news for the development of documentary in China, and for international coproduction, of course,” says Jeanneau. “Everything had stopped for six months, and nobody in China was making any decisions [about projects]. It was a six-month period where nothing moved, both inside CCTV and outside.”
But with the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (or SARFT) expected to introduce legislation that will facilitate an increase for quotas regarding international coproduction and foreign program acquisitions, and new management at CCTV-9, Jeanneau says the recent activity will bode well for this year’s edition of Asian Side of the Doc, kicking off today (March 17) in Xiamen, China.
“The new [SARFT] rules create a strong need for Chinese broadcasters to buy more international content, so they are buying more already,” says Jeanneau. “This is good news. And there will be more [international] coproduction, because they still need to learn how to make films that will travel around the world.”
This year’s edition of the conference, its sixth, will feature panels highlighting the new regulations with representatives from the SARFT on hand, as well as representatives from CCTV, who will discuss newly established policies concerning its commitment to documentary. Jeanneau says another important area of focus is the theatrical documentary, as, with the number of cinema screens in China expected to grow significantly from 20,000 to 40,000 in 10 years’ time, more opportunities are sure to arise for cinematic doc-makers.
With more than 600 delegates registered, hailing from 38 countries, the event will once again feature sessions geared towards bringing potential partners together – both via its “Asia to Asia” and “Asia to Rest of World” sessions – and also boasts the confirmed appearance of some 130 international decision-makers, and a stronger focus on emerging platforms.
Jeanneau says that by highlighting the positive new developments in the Chinese documentary field, especially after the rough latter half of 2014, he hopes to see a sense of optimism return for both local producers, and foreign producers looking to enter the market.
“It’s starting up again,” says Jeanneau. “These elements are, all together, giving the documentary community in China some hope.”
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