Producer (Factory Gate Films - Chine)
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"I’ve been 'watching' films since I was a child but I only started to really 'see' and 'hear' films from the moment I started reading reviews. At that time in China, there weren’t many film magazines and they weren’t very accessible, at least for those who weren’t born into cinephile families or didn’t live in major cities like Beijing or Shanghai. So it’s thanks to the internet that I was able to start following some very popular critics like Weixidi and Yunzhong. Later, when I arrived in France, in 2005, I started reading more systematically film magazines and journals like Les Cahiers du cinéma.
Since I started reading reviews, not only has the number of films I’ve seen or need to see increased massively, but I’ve also learned how to distinguish between 'good', 'bad' and 'mediocre' films - very subjectively of course. So yes, criticism has played an important role in my own discovery of cinema.
For us producers, criticism can be both a partner and a menace. It can be both analytical and emotional, subjective and objective and in that sense isn’t necessarily fair. Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains was very well received by critics around the world and won many awards (including best foreign film, awarded by the French Film Critics' Union.) There was a superb level of interaction between audiences and critics in France when the film came out. We’re so happy and grateful. However, another one of our films was really poorly received because of its subject matter and the austerity of its style. Because of this, the distributor decided to delay the release of the film. In that sense, as a producer, I’m not sure whether critics are allies or enemies. They are alternately both.
In China, the critical success of a film is perceived as a validation of the director’s skills. Because there are many directors here in China that don’t know how to make films. And so it’s reassuring for investors when they’re considering future films. Amongst producers of arthouse films, we often laugh about this, but it’s a known fact that directors make much faster progress than us. Indeed, from their first successful features - often arthouse films made on a very low budget - they become the target of major studios and get sucked in straight away into the commercial market. Meanwhile, we’re still making small films with small gains...
In my country, the impact of 'serious' reviews on box office success is limited. First of all, because it’s mostly very young audiences that watch films. That generation has grown up with the web and its understanding of the world relies heavily on social networks. Promotion is therefore done through influencers on social media. Furthermore, given China’s size, the number of cinephiles critics can reach is fairly limited. So, how do we reach young people who aren’t used to watching arthouse films, especially when algorithms automatically eliminstate the data that they don’t often search for. That’s the challenge that producers constantly face.
Today, not only does criticism have a wider field of action (with the development of series and platforms) but the forms it takes have also multiplied. If cinema can grow beyond the silver screen, via computers, phones, tablets and home-cinemas, why can’t criticism grow beyond the traditional press, via social networks or apps like YouTube or TikTok, with new formats (podcasts, videos…) that these allow? In any case, at a time when images proliferate for free, criticism makes up the last bastion against the overflow of information and a way back to the essence of cinema."
As told to Chloé Rolland