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Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Little Trouble in Big China


News emerged yesterday that the 2D prints of AVATAR had been pulled from cinemas in China, in an effort to make some space for Chinese films. China has an upper limit of 20 foreign films per year to protect the homegrown industry. Instantly commentators are speculating that the content of the film is too 'subversive' for Chinese authorities. Can I be the first to say that AVATAR is many things, but subversive it ain't. Many other Hollywood films with similar themes and plots have played in China with no problem and the fact that they are keeping the 3D version (which accounts for 90% of box office) tells me it's economic, not political.

What this highlights for me is the fiercely protective nature of the Chinese government towards its own industry. Other countries such as South Korea, and more famously, France, have measures to protect their own cinemas from being overrun with Hollywood product and its no surprise that these countries have healthy, creative and successful film industries. How much should a country protect itself? What place does protectionism have in the creative industries?

It is tempting, as an arthouse cinema manager, to advocate an upper limit on Hollywood in this country, as it can be a tad frustrating to pop down to your local multiplex (with anything up to 10 or 12 screens) and find two or three films playing, all inevitably aimed at teenagers. Meanwhile, at The Dukes, we often play 6-7 different features on one screen.

The unintended consequence of countries where Hollywood product is outright not available (Iran, Cuba) means that they have been forced to create an indigenous industry which has gone on to worlwide recognition, as well as providing distinct and unique films which bear no relation to the US-made stuff.

If you wanted to go out for dinner and the only restaurants in town were McDonalds and Burger King, you too might start advocating government intervention.

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