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人民画报 CNEX: Fueling Independent Documentaries

(2012-09-18 14:26:23)
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CNEX: Fueling Independent Documentaries

 Text by Zhou Jin


In an old Suzhou street, 96-year-old Ms. Sun lives with her 60-year-old personal assistant. After her husband passed away, childless Ms. Sun wrote a will leaving the majority of her estate to establish a scholarship fund for a local university after her death.

Initially, Ms. Sun kept the will secret, but over time, word eventually leaked. No one could understand why she would leave everything to students who she didn’t know and who would never come to take care of her. The decision also left a sour taste in the mouth of her assistant, who expected an extra reward after Ms. Sun died. Ms. Sun’s nephew seemingly didn’t care at first, but his aunt’s fortune ultimately lured him into the game as well…人民画报 <wbr>CNEX: <wbr>Fueling <wbr>Independent <wbr>Documentaries


This is the story told in My Last Secret, a documentary film directed by Li Xiaofeng and Jia Kai with the help of Chinese Next (CNEX), a non-profit foundation dedicated to the production and promotion of Chinese documentaries. The 90-minute documentary was cited as one of CIFF’s (China Independent Film Festival) Top Ten Documentaries and nominated to compete at the 9th Jeonju International Film Festival.

Initially, Director Li intended to make a film about the demolition of an old street in Suzhou. However, he couldn’t keep his lens away from Ms. Sun, one of the street’s residents, and decided to follow the changes in society and the impact of money on people’s lives through her story. The concept conformed perfectly to CNEX’s annual theme of 2007 - “Money.”

Genesis

CNEX is considered the first organization dedicated to promoting the development of independent documentaries on the Chinese mainland. Ruby Chen, chief operating officer of CNEX, reveals how the foundation works: It sponsors eight to 10 independent Chinese documentaries that follow its annual theme, each of which receives financial aid of 80,000-100,000 yuan. CNEX itself serves as the producer, inviting renowned directors and scholars from home and abroad to advise the filmmakers. After production wraps, CNEX submits its films to international film festivals and negotiates distribution.人民画报 <wbr>CNEX: <wbr>Fueling <wbr>Independent <wbr>Documentaries


Ruby Chen, a Taiwan native, worked with an international consulting firm for a dozen years. In those days, she bounced from one airport to another around the globe. The experience offered her a chance to witness the unprecedented economic growth across China. She made up her mind to do something more meaningful than collecting paychecks as a successful consultant. One day, Zhang Zhao, a filmmaker and former executive vice president of Sina.com, knocked on Chen’s door to tell her that he wanted to establish an organization to encourage independent filmmakers to record 21st Century China through documentaries, so that later generations will understand our era and the spirit of their forefathers. Ruby Chen had similar feelings, and the pair founded CNEX at the end of 2006.

Since 2007, CNEX has annually designated a single theme that can reflect lives and social tendencies of that year. The theme of the year 2007 was “Money.” CNEX experts found that after more than two decades of rapid economic growth, many Chinese people had become wealthy, yet remained confused about how to spend their money and about the new values that evolved along with the wealth.

From 2008 to 2012, CNEX’s themes were “Dreams and Hopes,” “Next Generation’s Homeland,” “Crisis and Opportunity,” “Youth and Citizenship,” and “Education? Education!”, respectively. CNEX has already declared its annual theme for 2013: “The Death and Rebirth of Love.” Each year’s theme accurately echoes common public sentiments of that year. Moreover, documentary films sponsored by CNEX will truly document our times.

The Longest Mile

In contrast to documentary blockbusters produced with the help of governmental funds, such as The Forbidden City, The Rise of the Great Nations, and The Power of Corporations, privately-funded documentary films eyeing profound themes through stories of ordinary people are called “independent cultural documentaries” by industry insiders. However, such films often suffer from limited resources in funding and distribution.

It’s hard to make a documentary, and even harder to get anyone to see it,” laments Fan Lixin, director of the documentary Last Train Home. A winner of the Best Feature Documentary Award at the International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam, the film follows a couple from rural Sichuan who became migrant workers in a big city.

Completing production isn’t enough for a documentary to draw public attention. To get films on the big screen, filmmakers cut attractive trailers and promote their productions at film festivals. “The situation is akin to laying wiring just outside a residential quarter but not to residents’ homes,” explains Ruby Chen. Therefore, CNEX helps documentary filmmakers complete what is called the “last mile of their journey” - marketing. Typical promotion costs US $50,000-100,000 for each film.

Once a documentary hits theaters, it will be exposed to more viewers and the box office will become a major source of revenue. KJ: Music and Life, directed by King Wai Cheung with the help of CNEX, began showing in Hong Kong’s Broadway Cinemas in September 2009. Its box office revenues reached nearly 800,000 yuan in eight months, in addition to more than 200,000 yuan from Taiwan.

Revenue also comes from DVD distribution, membership fees, royalties, and income from screenings in schools and other public institutions.

Ruby Chen stresses that content is vitally important to a documentary. A good documentary, foremost, must be interesting. Moreover, it should be accessible to viewers and easily become a hot topic in casual conservations.

Nowadays, it isn’t easy for documentary filmmakers to make money in China. This is why Ruby Chen calls CNEX her “daydream.” “We weave various daydreams every day,” she illustrates. “We just pick one that may be useful for us and try to make it a reality.”人民画报 <wbr>CNEX: <wbr>Fueling <wbr>Independent <wbr>Documentaries


人民画报 <wbr>CNEX: <wbr>Fueling <wbr>Independent <wbr>Documentaries

人民画报 <wbr>CNEX: <wbr>Fueling <wbr>Independent <wbr>Documentaries

人民画报 <wbr>CNEX: <wbr>Fueling <wbr>Independent <wbr>Documentaries








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