China’s film industry is getting stronger year after year. It is expected that China will take the lead from Hollywood in coming years because of its continuous string of blockbuster movies. Part of the fuel for the explosion is the demand here in China. It is recorded that China has added more than 25,000 cinema screens in its cities.An increasing number of EU film professionals would like to work with China. Europe can increase its presence by offering its incredibly rich array of talents, stories and financial resources to this new market.Bridging the Dragon aims to bridge European and Chinese film industries through a network of high level film professionals from both Europe and China and helps to develop contacts, resources and content. The network will facilitate collaboration between these two worlds and assist with the challenges this might bring. Co-founder of Bridging the Dragon Cristiano Bortone tell us about the function of Bridging the Dragon and its future plans.
Cristiano Bortone also is very talent film director. His film Caffè will serve as the first Italy-China co-production after the two countries signed an agreement in 2014. The movie, which is set in Italy, Belgium and China, has “three tonalities of taste,” Bortone remarked. The three tales are set in Trieste, Italy’s capital of coffee production; in China’s increasingly consumer-driven and ecologically endangered society; and in Belgium, where racial tensions thrive. Its producers include Bortone’s Orisa shingle with RAI Cinema, Savage Film and China’s Road Pictures. The film also receives backing from Italy’s Business Location South Tyrol. The script of the film was a product of the collaborative effort among European and Chinese writers. Bortone talked about more details of shooting when he answered the questions.
About Bridging the Dragon
Q: Bridging the Dragon has made impressive achievement since it started, including Bridging the Dragon’s Sino-European Project Lab, various seminars and discussions. As the member of Senior Board, please introduce us the story of the birth of Bridging the Dragon.
CB: The development of today’s Chinese film industry is extraordinary. In its demand of more and more content, at first China was looking mostly at the US. Hollywood seemed to be a successful business model. But eventually Europe is becoming more and more interesting for our Chinese colleagues and we – European producers – are eager to collaborate with what’s becoming the biggest film market in the world. Many challenges still make this collaboration difficult. This is reason why several national film institutions have developed a China program in order to support their producers in this task. But these experiences are still too local and cannot offer to our Chinese colleagues a more comprehensive vision of opportunities, regulations, people. That’s why, together with a group of colleagues from Europe and China, two years ago we decided to create the first Sino-European film producers’ platform. The idea was very simple and yet effective: connecting the best film professionals between the whole of Europe and China and help them get to know each other and make business. We live in an age in which the concept of the network is key. That’s our film producers’ version of it.
Obviously the most important element in this project is the quality of the elements of this network. That’s why since the beginning we targeted only relevant companies, with valuable projects or talents. I am pleased to see that – after such a short time – are now supported by the main European institutions, we are collaborating with several Chinese financial and cultural institutions, have a growing number of members from both sides and have signed an official partnership with Berlin and Cannes film market. It’s a sign that our vision expressed a need from the industry.
Q: This year has been the second module of Bridging the Dragon’s Sino-European Project Lab. What kind of projects can be selected in the lab? How the lab promotes the development of the projects? Can you describe about the progress of the first module of projects in lab?
CB: Our project lab is our answer to the lack of enough good projects suitable for collaboration between China and foreign countries. The cultural differences between us is still very big. Many Chinese professionals are not completely aware of the potentials of collaborations. Many European authors don’t understand the needs of Chinese audience. That’s why the lab is an extraordinary think tank, an incubator where selected professionals can meet, discuss, exchange idea and mostly build personal relationship in order to collaborate on their projects. I insist to say that the projects and companies are selected and so the number of participants limited. In our case we want to stress quality and not quantity and make the experience as personal and bonding as possible. The result is to create a community among people that otherwise would never have known each other. One of the most successful stories, was last year’s collaboration between Danish relevant company Trust Nordisk/Zentropa and writer Shu Huan with Jetavana. They met through the lab and they are now producing together the film My best friend Anderson, a fantasy romance based on Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. An important collaboration that came together only thanks to our lab.
Q:The Chinese film market has developed very fast those years, and Chinese filmmakers are eager to find helpful experience and resource from foreign countries. So what do you think that European film market could provide to Chinese film market? What kind of advantages and resources in European film market that Chinese filmmakers should notice?
CB: Europe is a unique assemble of culture, history, beautiful locations. It has a long experience in film making, an extraordinary collection of stories, some of the most prestigious film festivals in the world and last but not least – also important incentives for film production. Hollywood has been fishing for decades into European talents, remakes, film sets. Why shouldn’t Chinese film industry do the same and make full use of these opportunities? There is so many great films that could become excellent remakes. Many beautiful places that could make Chinese stories unforgettable; European professionals that could add that extra quality; film festivals that could promote new Chinese directors and talents; soft money that could lower the risk of production. It’s all up to encourage the process of mutual knowledge and understanding.
Q: What’re the opportunities for the Sino-European cooperation in future? What’re the barriers for Chinese and European filmmakers to break down?
CB: Many Chinese producers wrongly still consider Europe a place for art house movies only. This is not true. We have a very strong tradition of popular films. On the other hand, Chinese society is changing so fast. Sometimes I think even my Chinese colleagues underestimate how fast. A part of the Chinese public is now reading more, travelling more, getting to know the world and also starting to age. Their taste is becoming not only more refined but also diversified. This is the key word. A mature market must have more kinds of movies: of course still comedies, rom com, spectacular movies. But also family films, animation, genre and also more profound movies. I would not be surprised if, in only very few years, we will see an important art house market in China. The signs of this development are already visible. In any case, nobody ever knows what the future is like but one thing is for sure: the public will always want something new. And I am a strong believer that the real union between the European and Chinese culture will surprise us all.
Q: According the press, Caffè is the first Italian-Chinese co-production film, would you like to introduce the background and shooting process of this film?
CB: After Red Like the Sky/Rosso come il cielo I started coming often to China and begun to think of a film that could bring our worlds together. Many quality products in film hold a strong symbolism: taste manages to represent the specialty of life, the care for ourselves, the important of feelings. Coffee in particular is unique as it is linked to so many historical and social events. Not many know that it is connected to the Turkish invasion of Europe, the French and American revolution, to slavery but also fair trade. Nowadays, especially in the Far East, it’s a status symbol commodity. A coffee shop in China is a symbol of modern city life. That’s why I chose this element to connect the three very human stories of the film.
The result is a global film, rich of angles, faces, emotions. Being the film an official coproduction, it has the status of a national Chinese film, so it will be released commercially in China. I will be happy if the film is appreciated by both audiences.
Q: The story happened in China is one part of Caffè, and it quite coincides with what happened right now in China, why you chose this story? How this Chinese story compromises with other stories happened in Europe?
CB: The film connects three destinies between East and West, in China, in Italy, in North of Europe. Nowadays our world is smaller and smaller. We are all connected somehow. The film ultimately tells us how precious our world is, and how we should protect its future. I think this theme is very important nowadays in China. The country is going through a massive development. It is something similar to what happened in Europe in the decades after the war. Everything is new and possible. But now that the society is developing, people start to question the price to be paid to this development. So themes like the search for our roots, the protection of the environment, the quality of life, are more and more heartfelt by Chinese people.
Q: The film crossed two different regions, cultures and languages. Were there any difficulties when you were shooting the film because of that? How did you deal with those difficulties?
CB: From the production point of view, this is my most complex film to now. in order to give the film a more realistic look, I insisted to have a whole local crew for each of the countries where we shot. So, in the end, it has been like shooting three movies in one. For what concerns China then, it’s the first time an Italian film goes through the censorship, deal with a different way of arranging contracts and negotiations. At times it has been challenging but what I find extraordinary about China is that, even things that originally seem impossible, in the end can be somehow arranged. It’s just a matter of patience and ability to negotiate. This for a filmmaker is very important because often making a film is the art of realizing something that – to the common people – seem undoable.
Q: In the cooperation with Chinese staff members, actors and actresses, what’s your impression? Are there any special ways of working for Chinese filmmakers, which are different from European filmmakers?
CB: Shooting in China has been a fantastic experience. The energy and enthusiasm that I found in my collaborators is something inspiring for a filmmaker. But also the desire of everybody to learn, to do better and better. This is very important to get quality work done and to help the industry improve its professional standard. Also we had the luck of shooting in the beautiful region of Yunnan. We had access to unforgettable locations and hospitable people, like the little coffee farm called Xiaowazi. Who can ever forget their spicy black-bone chicken or the ripe pitaya straight from the tree!
I consider making films in China nowadays a new frontier. And since we are made to always explore new lands I am looking forward to work more there in the near future and hopefully bring Western and Eastern experiences together.