Recap: 2020 Berlinale Sino-European Production Seminar

The 6th Sino-European Production Seminar. Credit: Bridging the Dragon

Amidst the detrimental COVID-19 epidemic, Chinese and European filmmakers convened during the 2020 Berlinale to discuss how the virus has plagued the film sector and what feasible measures can be taken to alleviate the damage. We’ve summarized key topics that were discussed during the 6th Sino-European Production Seminar held on Wednesday, 26th February, jointly organized by the producers association Bridging the Dragon and the European Film Market.

Zhang Fan, Project Manager of Bridging the Dragon’s China office gave an overview of what happened in the Chinese film market in 2019. Mr. Cai Gongming, CEO of leading Chinese distributor Road Pictures, who previously acquired titles such as Cannes’ Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters and Oscar-nominated Capernaum, analyzed the impact of the epidemic on the Chinese film industry and gave insight on what to expect in Q3. Patrick Huang, renowned Taiwanese producer (The Road to Mandalay, Suburban birds), shared thoughts on co-productions with China in current times.

Cai Gongming, CEO of leading Chinese distributor Road Pictures. Credit: Bridging the Dragon

2019 was a tough year for the Chinese film industry, though survivors did emerge, and we certainly saw interesting trends start to take form on different fronts. Notably, we witnessed a growing interest in Sci-fi and Disaster Films in the Chinese film market, not to mention the overall progression towards diversity in terms of film genre. However, entering 2020, the Chinese film industry has been facing hurdles on virtually every level within its supply chain, primarily due to the coronavirus outbreak. In a nutshell, most cinemas have been shut down since 24th January, production activities across the country have been suspended, and films set for theatrical release have been postponed.

This has led to much speculation on further repercussions: Many small cinemas, especially those in third or fourth-tier cities, will go bankrupt within the next season, and it’s estimated that China will lose around 20% of its cinema screens.; The pipeline of local productions is likely to dry up and filmmakers can only hope for more financial support and incentives from the government, as well as tolerance and concessions when it comes to policy and censorship.; Audience viewing habits will substantially shift from theaters to online platforms, prompting filmmakers to rethink their distribution strategies and opt for online mediums to exhibit their films. Industry players will be attentive to closer ties made and new deals struck between content providers and streaming platforms.

Film producer Patrick Huang. Credit: Bridging the Dragon

In spite of all the presumed turmoil, many still stand optimistic and look forward to future possibilities. Patrick Huang, CEO of Flash Forward Entertainment, said “There is no doubt that European producers have been slowly getting familiar with the Chinese market, and Chinese producers have also understood the importance of international potential, diversity and the rules of the global game. I wish to see more projects with truly international stories co-produced between China and Europe in the next few years. I believe we could learn from Korea, India, and Spain, all of which have achieved great success locally and internationally.”

Cristiano Bortone, Managing Director of Bridging the Dragon, expressed that “The virus has impacted the Chinese film industry severely. There will be negative consequences within the sector in the coming months. Nevertheless, we still believe that the Chinese film market has huge potential. As soon as the virus is overcome, Chinese people will have more desire for entertainment and cinemas. Paradoxically, there may be even more opportunities for the two markets to work together.”