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Historic Chinese Films Debut on DVD

Celebration of Chinese Cinema Opens Window to Awakening Dragon

Twenty percent of the world’s population live in China. After thousands of years of dynastic rule, the nation has spent several decades shedding a centuries-old system and redefining itself and its place in the world. Its size and emerging standing within the global market—including its 2001 acceptance into the WTO—make it a nation with which to be reckoned. Yet few Americans are conscious of this awakening dragon. This may change with the Celebration of Chinese Cinema, an effort to bring decades of the best Chinese films to American audiences.
The Celebration of Chinese Cinema (CCC) seeks to bring the works of six Chinese film studios to American audiences. Because of this endeavor, dozens of Chinese films have toured across America and have been featured on national television. Beginning on June 24, Knight Mediacom International brings these Chinese films to DVD with the release of Country Teachers, a story about the plight of unpaid teachers in rural China. This will be followed with the July 29 release of Red River Valley, which portrays the immense beauty of Tibet and the vicious British massacre in 1904, and the August 26 release of Postmen in the Mountains—a three-day journey in which a father hands his 112-kilometer mountain mail route to his son (See description of these three films.) Through a license from China Century Entertainment Inc., Knight Mediacom International will release fifty DVDs—one per month—within a few years time.
Bringing Chinese film to American audiences has been an uphill battle. Only 700 of the 37,000 movie theaters in America regularly present foreign films. “Theaters find it almost impossible to play foreign films,” explains David Buckley, curator of the series and the man behind CCC. “Usually the venue is owned, controlled or dependent on the majors for a continual stream of product. Now is an important time for Americans to understand China, and these films are a great medium for building that awareness.” This is why China Century Entertainment Inc., the parent company of CCC, has spent five years bridging this divide.
“China is rapidly closing the gap with the rest of the world in almost every facet,” says Buckley. “Economically and socially it will compete on every level. From its construction industry to its software industry, China’s brainpower and ability to create a more global lifestyle for all its citizens is becoming apparent. Taken as a whole, these films are heralding this advance and show us where China was after the Revolution. We see her catch her breath and turn an apparent disaster into what has become today a phenomenon.”
Chinese film is at a crossroads. Until very recently, the entire medium was considered a national treasure and was used to educate and entertain the masses. Now, for the first time since the 1949 revolution, Chinese filmmakers are producing movies with sales in mind. “Chinese films do not have a distributor whose primary motivation is financial profit and they’re not simply propaganda films created by the government,” Buckley clarifies. “Filmmakers are encouraged to lay out their ideas and concerns the same as any independent filmmaker with a burning desire to use film as an art form. If we accept this thesis as the basis for making the film, and if we accept the fact that the filmmaker was brought up in a different system that he or she accepts as normal, then the films become a fairly accurate document highlighting the beliefs, art, and history of that particular culture.”
The Chinese movie studios have unwittingly created a panorama of China. Ron Knight, principal of Knight Mediacom—whose DVD label will also release films from Brazil, France, and Germany—says, “These films give the international art film audience as well as the general public in the USA a chance to see how life has progressed in the world’s other remaining superpower. By looking at the values each other holds dear, we stand to learn a lot about the possibilities we engage together, how our own society operates, and where we are all going.”
For the first time, American audiences have the means and opportunity to formulate an intelligent, informed, and nuanced view of China’s historical, political, economic, and cultural relevance.

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