Overseas documentary industry insiders seek more inspiration, cooperation in China

Insiders in overseas documentary film industries are looking forward to greater cooperation with their Chinese counterparts as documentaries have become a new favorite among Chinese television audiences in recent years.

Industry elites have been surprised to see that the trend has resulted in better-quality Chinese documentaries.

“Hopefully, I can find some topics that are suitable for the global market and some great Chinese partners, as well,” said Richard Propper, founder of the U.S.-based Solid Entertainment, one of the world’s most successful distribution companies, and former president of the International Documentary Association.

As an expert in the worldwide distribution of documentaries, Propper was invited to Jiayuguan, a city in northwest China’s Gansu Province, to the attend the First China Jiayuguan International Short Film Festival.

The festival, held from Tuesday to Friday, was co-sponsored by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television and the Gansu provincial government.

More than 400 films from over 10 countries and regions, including China, the United States, Britain, France and Russia, were screened during the festival.

“In China, audience’s interest in documentary films are growing incredibly fast, which means the market is expanding,” Propper told Xinhua.

He said people in the United States. and the rest of the global market are eager to learn about China, which shows that there is great market potential for China-focused documentaries.

Chinese documentary producers long struggled to present their works to audiences, because people were more keen on soap operas and entertainment shows. But a number of unexpected hits have broken the ice in the past several years.

These documentaries, including “The Forbidden City,” “The Rise of Great Nations” and the recently popular “A Bite of China,” were watched on TV by millions of people and proved to be Internet sensations, as well.

However, according to Propper, the channel for documentary distribution in China remains narrow, and he is looking forward to cooperating with Chinese producers on multi-platform distribution.

He said that on the international market, television is no longer the main channel for documentary distribution, as clients can also catch the programs on various digital devices, such as cell phones and tablet computers.

“I’m looking for Chinese stories that can travel to different places in the world,” said Propper.

Richard Bradley, managing director of British company Lion Television Ltd. and an Emmy-winning producer, is more interested in co-production work with talented Chinese documentary filmmakers.

“Co-production is now a common way to work in documentary production, especially when you’re trying to make something that can sell across the world,” Bradley said, adding that this production method is a combination of creativity from both sides and a bridge built between two different cultures.

With over 30 years of work experience in the documentary industry, Bradley is no stranger to Chinese topics, and he has even worked with Chinese producers several times.

His previous productions include “The Great Wall of China,” “Forbidden City,” “The First Emperor” and “Chinese School,” which all sold well in Europe and North America.

According to Bradley, the production quality of most Chinese documentaries has reached international standards, but in order to break into Western markets, producers need to figure out different ways to tell the same story.

“British people love documentaries on Chinese topics, but there must be something that they can relate to,” he said.

He also pointed out that the co-production process can be rather time-consuming and requires mutual respect and understanding.

Vivian McGrath, a senior British producer, worked in Hong Kong for seven years and is now based in Shanghai. She said that young Chinese filmmakers will help narrow the gap in cultural differences and secure further partnerships with the West.

“The works of young Chinese directors amazed me,” she said. “But they must adjust their way of storytelling to appeal to audiences in different countries.”

She said that even when a British film aims to enter the American market, cultural differences mean that a lot of changes need to be made to the film.

Most young Chinese, in McGrath’s eyes, are open to new ideas and have a global vision, which is key to successful collaboration, and the topics they tend to choose can easily resonate with Western audiences.

“I believe one day young Chinese filmmakers will change the future of this industry,” McGrath said.


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