Boasting tens of millions of views and offering previously unheard of artistic freedoms, China’s “micro film” movement has made it possible for anyone with a smartphone to become a moviemaker.
Until two weeks ago the Internet-based films — made by everyone from first timers to established directors — existed in a grey area in terms of censorship, with content screened by host Internet portals, but with the phenomenon seeing two years of rapid growth, Beijing has tightened scrutiny, vowing to prevent “unhealthy content.”
The impact of the new restrictions in China’s already heavily regulated cyberspace remains to be seen, with Chinese filmmakers having come to see the micro movies as a haven from box-office pressure and a means of artistic release.
“This type of film allows almost anyone to be a director,” veteran Chinese filmmaker and Academy Award nominee Gu Changwei (顧長衛), 54, said.
“I can present what I think and the story I wish to tell — like a blogger who can publish their own articles,” said Gu, nominated for an Oscar for his cinematography on Chen Kaige’s (陳凱歌) 1993 hit Farewell My Concubine.
He added that micro films, which tend to be no longer than 30 minutes and are broadcast across China on portals such as Youku and Sohu, instantly reach a massive audience. Jean Shao, director of communications at Youku, said the micro film movement first caught the public’s attention with the release of Old Boys in 2010, a film that has been viewed more than 47 million times. It formed part of the Youku-sponsored “11 Degrees” series of 10 micro films, which has been seen by 120 million viewers combined.
Directors say the films allow them to connect with their viewers in a nation where video-sharing Web site YouTube is blocked.
“I can see feedback right after people have watched and I am able to know what is good and what can be improved,” Gu said. “Micro films present a real, direct communication between the director and the audience”.
He is one of four Asian directors to contribute to the “Beautiful 2012” micro film omnibus supported by the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society and Youku, which has screened at festivals in Asia since March. It includes the mesmerising Walker from Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang (蔡明亮), which charts a monk’s journey through chaotic Hong Kong streets. Tsai’s short film helped close Critics Week at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Gu’s contribution to Beautiful 2012 was Long Tou, which sees its characters ruminating on the meaning of beauty
According to US investment managers Needham, China has become the world’s largest market for smartphones. Some 33.1 million of the devices were sold in the first quarter, compared to 25 million sold in the US, while China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) has claimed that 325 million Chinese regularly watch videos online.
“We have witnessed how fast mobile technology has developed,” said Tang Liujun (唐麗君), managing director of the Shanghai International Film Festival.
“It has changed the way people obtain their information and entertain themselves. Almost everybody holds such a smart handset, and our interest in using the device is increasing, just as people move from TVs to PCs,” Tang said.
Previously, the content produced by the micro film movement was monitored by the likes of Youku, but an increasingly wary Chinese government two weeks ago vowed to boost its management of the craze.