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Missing Chinese movies

After showing at a college film festival, this movie was ultimately sold to the CCTV movie channel.
Figures from SARFT show that 260 films were produced in China in 2005, up from 212 in 2004 and 140 in 2003. These numbers might be surprising, because it certainly didn't seem like five movies opened every week last year - and in fact, only 60 domestic movies made it to the screen.

Beijing's Mirror evening paper calculates that between 1995 and 2003, an average of 100 films were produced annually. Only 20 were released to theaters each year, leaving somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000 movies that fell into distribution limbo, including some that won prizes in overseas competitions.

What happens to films that don't make it to the big screen in China? Here's a list of outlets from the Mirror report (some movies fall into multiple categories):

  • Bought by the movie channel - 75%. CCTV-6 broadcasts seven or eight domestic films every day, so it buys up movies by the truckload. However, according to Liu Haodong, the director of the Center for Industry Research at country's movie producers association, the average price of a movie sold to TV is just a few hundred thousand yuan, or generally not enough to recoup funding.
  • Sold to the army - 25%. The army maintains its own movie distribution network, so soldiers end up being able to view movies on the big screen that are unavailable to civilian audiences.
  • Sold as A/V media - 65%. Rights for DVDs and other media can be sold to domestic and foreign distributors.
  • Shown in second-string theaters - 5%. Rather than showing in a widespread release, films may be shown in individual theaters in secondary markets.
  • Shelved until further notice - 15%. Producers unwilling to throw away their chances at the big screen may opt to forgo other distribution avenues and sit on their films until another opportunity arises. The Zhang Ziyi film Jasmine Women, awaiting release since 2003, falls into this category.

Liu Hao estimates that the domestic market can support the screening of 120 domestically-produced films each year. Though production in 2005 overshot that amount by 100, the movies that actually screened represented just half of that capacity.

The Mirror quotes a few market observers who identify several obstacles to increasing that screening rate. A survey of audiences in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Wuhan, and Hangzhou found that 46.6% of respondents thought that low quality was the primary reason for poor reception. Few distributors are willing to put smaller films up against blockbusters, both foreign and domestic, for fear that they'll play to empty theaters. But another school of thought says that the problem stems from a general shortage of theaters - if China had more than its current 2680 screens in 2000 theaters, then people would watch more movies.

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