Documentary cinema struggles to survive

09:01, December 04, 2009      

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At the German-Chinese Documentary Film Forum in Shanghai, insiders from documentary film companies spoke about the challenges they must tackle, from funding to distribution. As a result, risks are much higher for documentary filmmakers and companies.

Li Xiao, a producer from the Documentary Channel under Shanghai Media Group (SMG), said that documentary films present no competition for big production groups, and the market is marginalized by blockbusters like "2012." On the other hand, SMG keeps trying to discover directors with new ideas. It has continued to fund documentary projects throughout its "DocuChina Filmmaker Plan" for four consecutive years.

Dr. Grit Lemke from the International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film (DOK Leipzig) commented that it is also difficult to promote documentary films in Germany. Filmmakers have to find various sources to finance their projects, such as foundations or television stations. There are some art theaters that screen documentary films in Germany, but ticket revenues cannot cover operation expenses.

Dr. Lemke noted that theme plays a very important role in documentary films. Filmmakers should know how to choose interesting themes that can attract attention from young people.

As the second largest documentary film festival in Europe, the DOK Leipzig attracted more than 34,200 visitors in 2009, the largest number in the festival's history. Moreover, young people made up the majority of the visitors.

Yi Sicheng, one of the founders of the Yunnan Multi Culture Visual Festival, said that since camcorders were available in the late 1990s, an increasing number of Chinese have taken this relatively inexpensive tool to record what happens around them. This group of people, including professional filmmakers and amateurs, produce a large number of documentaries that cover a wide range of themes, although they usually evade scrutiny of authorities. They either use their own money or receive funds from foundations to make films. Yi said that this kind of independent filmmaking boom can be referred to as the "Chinese New Documentary Movement."

Yi also said that there are some non-governmental documentary film festivals in China now. The Yunnan Multi Culture Visual Festival is the largest one and is held in Kunming every two years and provides an open platform for all independent documentary filmmakers.

The German-Chinese Documentary Film Forum is being held at the German General Consulate in Shanghai from November 27 to December 13. A total of 27 German and Chinese films will be screened throughout the event. The audience will have the chance to discuss with the filmmakers after the viewings.

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