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Under the stars: Futian's open-air movie nights


Tan Yifan


Watching movies in the open air was once worth walking for hours from one village to another for many Chinese. Now more than 5,000 cinemas have opened in China and over 10 Chinese online video providers offer cheap or free movies to viewers. The tradition of outdoor movies has all but disappeared.

For organizers of Futian Starlight Cinema and CINEXPRESS, who receive support from the district government, providing free movies in public gives people a taste of nostalgia while providing a new way to speak to moviegoers.

On the evening of April 30, over 100 viewers joined renowned director and educator Xie Fei at the open area next to the Shenzhen Concert Hall to discuss and watch his award-winning movie “Black Snow.”

Telling the story of a chivalrous nobody named Li Huiquan, the movie reflects the changes in people’s lives in the 1980s and conveys the writers’ sense of fatalism. It won a Silver Bear Award at 1990’s Berlin International Film Festival.

“The movie represents the start of ‘city films’ in China,” said Hu Liubin, guest speaker and Shenzhen-based director. “Through the characters you can find the pulse of the time. Many Chinese directors such as Jia Zhangke and Zhang Yimou have borrowed some elements from the movie for creations.”

“I prefer movies with realism and am influenced by directors such as Shuihua (a Chinese director who died in 1996) and Akira Kurosawa,” said Xie. “I did not totally agreed with Liu Heng (the playwright) when I read his script but his explanation of an irreversible path in life convinced me. We agreed that the name of the film would be translated as ‘Black Snow,’ because when snow is stepped on, it turns black.”

Xie said the film was a critical and commercial success because at that time there was no competition in China. But as the market economy was introduced and the commercial film industry grew, pushing art films out of the market.

“Chinese art films are facing a great challenge because the market is entertainment-oriented and most of the viewers are young people,” Xie said. “The ratio of attendance in China is smaller than that of some other countries.”

Xie said piracy is also frustrating filmmakers. “For instance, the recently popular TV drama ‘Descendants of the Sun’ was leaked online a day after a Chinese video provider bought the rights for broadcasting,” he said. “It is actually unreasonable for some viewers to pay for it and others to enjoy it freely.”

Xie said he decided to not make new films and will focuses on teaching.

“I don’t want to cater to the market and give up my pursuit of art house movies. It’s better for me to guide students while they make their movies,” Xie said.

To encourage people to appreciate various movie styles and discuss the art and thoughts it conveys, 150 open-air movies were screened last year in Futian. The organizers invited directors and local artists to talk to viewers before each screening.

“Public education about film is important to the industry and I’m optimistic about the future of Chinese movies. In fact, the Internet and new technologies have helped young people realize their dreams of making films,” Xie said. “All we need is a better environment with correct regulations.”