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Arthouse Opportunities in the Chinese Film Industry

Today, the number of cinemas in China has now reached over 44,000, becoming the country with the highest number of cinemas in the world. Audiences flock to cinemas to watch the latest releases and internet users watch hours of film content online as well. Film audiences in cinemas are young in majority: 71% of Chinese ticket buyers would be between the ages of 18 and 39. In 2016, despite a slight decrease in growth rate at 3.7 per cent, the total box office was of 45.7 billion yuan (about £5.19 billion). Both traditional Chinese film industry like Huayi Brothers or Enlight Media and new media giants Wanda or Tencent Pictures are engaged in a fierce competition to acquire and invest into the film market.

Yet despite this historical growth of the industry, it is still faced by a number of challenges. From its inception as an entertainment industry embracing the star system and genre films, to its use for propaganda, the first seventy years of the Chinese film industry have not allowed for many opportunities to develop an independent sector. In 2015, U.S. imports represent 37.8% of the foreign box office contributions, just behind Hong Kong, while the UK only amounts for a 3.0% contribution. Like most countries, Hollywood is also dominating the screens, leaving little space for diversity and non-commercial international content.

Chinese filmmakers and other industry professionals have started raising awareness on the poor quality and monopole of commercial content across film platforms, arguing in favour of more Chinese and foreign arthouse films to get their piece of the exhibition cake. This year at Cannes, other actors, directors and distributors have expressed their interest for more foreign arthouse films entering the Chinese market, and an increase in the production of Chinese independent films.