Scene from Tongdao, Tongdao. Photo:CFP
Film producer Cao Ming recently corrected a media report about his new film. "Our script is being revised. The movie has not started yet," he posted on his Sina Weibo on August 9.
A Xinhua Daily report published on August 7 said Cao's Love Story in Lotus City is currently being shot in Jinhu, Jiangsu Province and dubbed it as Jinhu's first local movie, co-produced by Jinhu county government and two media companies.
But Cao said that his movie, which is supposed to start in Jinhu this month, is being suspended. Cao stressed that his movie is not a local film tailored for Jinhu.
Pu Rongcao, deputy director of the publicity department in Jinhu, told the Global Times yesterday that the movie being shot is Adventure in Lotus City. The film, about talk show star Ji Xing from Jinhu, is being produced by another crew.
Though some may wonder why this is an issue, in recent years, many small cities use films as a way to promote local culture and scenic spots. Usually these films are subpar.
Cao's movie, though unrelated to Jinhu's county government, may still be labeled unfavorably.
Expected to advertise a location using a beautiful storyline and scenery, these films are viewed as a promotional effort. Some see this as an innovative way to generate publicity for local governments.
Cao said that these films are either tailored to the local area, or coincidentally have scripts suitable for a certain place.
Suzhou's Love Recipe shot in 2009 is one example. The first movie about the crab culture in China is set in the ancient Dongshan town in Suzhou and chronicles three generations residing there.
Sponsored by the local government of Dongshan, together with an advertisement company and a wine company, the premise of the film is a love story. But the film specifically depicts the attractions of the town. It stresses Dongshan as the hometown of crab, including elaborate details on how to eat and cook the crabs.
Yanghu Fist (2011) made in Changzhou, Jiangsu Province, focuses on the local boxing culture. Tongdao, Tongdao (2011) in Tongdao, Hunan Province, is about the Red Army's strategy shifting in 1934. Regardless of the subject, these films all highlight local people, cultures and geographical features.
"Backed by the government, [local movies] are usually of low input and follow mainstream themes of the time," movie critic Li Zhong told the Global Times, adding that such movies usually cast third-rate and amateur actors.
Li Zhong said that these movies are a way for the local governments to promote tourism. Cities and tourist sites can become famous overnight because of a movie.
Xie Jin's movie Hibiscus Town (1986) drove up tourism in Xiangxi, the western part of Hunan Province, and Zhang Yimou's Hero (2002) left beautiful impressions of Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan Province.
Zhangjiajie, a northwestern tourist city in Hunan Province, has increased its popularity nationwide using James Cameron's movie Avatar, proclaiming the scenic area as the inspiration for the film.
Crowning itself as the hometown of Avatar, as many scenes from the film claimed to be sourced from Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, tourists now go to Zhangjiajie to get a taste of Avatar. Some local governments want to experience the same fortune.
Hotspring World (2010) is a film set in Changping district, Beijing.
"We hope more people discover Changping and its hotsprings through the movie," Fang Yan, deputy director of Changping district, said at the film's premiere.
The scenes from the film are from the six hotsprings in Changping. 3D technique is used to highlight the beauty of hotsprings. As local reports said, the movie brands Changping as an ideal city for hotsprings.
Li said that the eagerness of local governments creates commercial opportunities, and movie companies and crew want to profit from these vanity projects.
"Usually, the publicity department will recruit scripts for this purpose. Or some movie companies lobby the governments for investment."
"Of course, there are young directors with big dreams who use it as a launching pad for success," said Li, "But they are the minority."
Striking a balance
Most local movies fail to materialize, often resulting in sensationalizing the local area.
"They have small chances of debuting at theaters and are mostly shown on local TV stations or movie channels on CCTV," said Li.
Such films are spread either through Sina Weibo or made into DVDs and distributed as souvenirs. Some manage to be broadcast at local cinemas or TV stations through administrative means, as entertainment for local people.
Changping's Hotspring World was reportedly made into 50,000 disks and distributed to rural home inns and holiday villages. Tongdao, Tongdao, which had an investment of over 8 million yuan, ended up showing in a few cities, with lackluster reception.
The wasted fiscal funds has experts pushing for transparency in the financial cost of such movies, to avoid corruption and improve quality.
"Most are not successful, because local government intervenes too much," Cao said.
Local governments turn a blind eye to the storyline and want merely promotional local elements, which usually appear too blatant and awkward, according to Cao.
"The eagerness for publicity is understandable, but it should be based on respect for artistic creation," he said.
Cao stresses that movie directors should insist on carrying out their ideas. "They [Jinhu county] provided us convenience in terms of site and hoped we can add some local elements in the movie," he recollected.
"But I'm insistent on these additions not affecting the core of the story; this is good for both sides."