by Dr. Sebastien Goulard

The Belt and Road Initiative is not only about business and trade, but presents a strong cultural dimension. With this programme, China supports cultural exchanges and heritage preservation along the old Silk Road.

Today, cultural exchanges may also be performed through movies.  From 11 to 16 October 2020, was held the 7th Silk Road International Film Festival (SRIFF) in Xi’an, Shaanxi. This annual film Festival has become increasingly popular in Asia, and is among the largest ones in China with Beijing International Film Festival and Shanghai International Film Festival, but its Silk Road flavour really makes it unique. During this festival, the audience discovered or rewatched major masterpieces, watched Chinese blockbusters or explored unusual destinations with movies from most continents.   

The 7th SRIFF

Because the Covid-19 pandemic that was still active outside China, several events were held online and most foreign film makers, actors and producers virtually attended the Festival.

The 2020 SRIFF was themed “Silk Road Links the World, Film Connects Cultures”, and was chaired by Chinese actress Zhou Dongyu (周冬雨). More than 500 movies were shown for this Festival, on cinema screens, online, or outdoor.

Tribute was paid to two European screenwriters Eric Rohmer and Federico Fellini to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their birth.

Among the selected competing movies, the committee chose 17 recommended films that showed the diversity of the cinema industry along the new Silk Road. The selection committee was chaired by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (who received two Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film for his films “A Separation” in 2011 and “The Salesman” in 2016). Chinese film maker Lu Chuan (陆川) and Chinese actress Song Jia (宋佳) were also member of the selection committee.

The following movies: China’s “The Rattle Drum”by Bai Zhiqiang, Germany-Russia’s “Persian Lessons” by Vadim Perelman, Kazakhstan’s “Yellow cat” by Adilkhan Yerzhanov were highly praised by the jury Among documentaries, Iran’ “Sunless Shadows” directed by  Mehrdad Oskouei,  US “Spaceship Earth” by Matt Wolf, Hong Kong’s “Dragon and Tiger Warrior” (龙虎武师)  were alos greatly appreciated. The jury also enjoyed New Zealand’s “Mosley” cartoon by Kirby Atkins.

Preparing the future cooperation between the European and Asian film industry

During this event, several forums were held to develop cooperation between Chinese and foreign film industry parties. The Silk Road Film Festival has become a major event for the industry and attracts several European film sector organisations such as the German Federal Film Board, that are willing to create new partnerships in Asia. Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska who won the Jury Grand Prix at the 68th Berlin International Film Festival for her film Mug in 2018, exchanged views with Song Jia about film creation at the Female Filmmakers Panel.

China is to become the world largest film market, and Chinese films are increasingly available abroad. In 2018, 1,600 Chinese films and television programmes were translated and broadcasted in foreign markets. On the other hand, the Chinese audience is keen to discover new stories and there is a growing demand for foreign movies, and not only blockbusters but also independent movies.

This trend may get confirmed in 2021 as it may still be more difficult to travel abroad, but people will continue to get interested in other cultures, and may turn to cinema and TV series to quench this thirst.  

The future of cinema industry and technologies

Several SRIFF forums also focused on new technologies and they can shape the future of the film industry. The coming 5G technology may transform the audience’s experience and the way films are produced.  That is why Asian and European film industry parties need to dialogue to better analyse these changes and cooperate to continue to please their audience.

Launched in 2014, this festival is hosted alternatively in Xi’an and Fuzhou (Fujian) the two main centres of the continental and maritime Silk Road, it provides an international platform for film exchanges and promotes Chinese and non-Chinese movies.    

The New Silk Road on Screen
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