Promotional material for Logan Photo: IC
With its power to approve or deny a film entry into cinemas in the Chinese mainland, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) clearly plays an incredibly important role within the film industry. Yet, while its role is felt everywhere in the film industry, the administration's inner workings have long remained a mystery.
Yet recently the administration has cracked its doors open to the public. In a 10-minute video clip from China Central Television (CCTV), Zhang Hongsen, director of SAPPRFT's film bureau, revealed the administration's office environment and explained how the film review process is carried out.
Located on Chang'an Avenue about five kilometers west of Tiananmen Square, the SAPPRFT HQ is a tower-like building that gives off a serious atmosphere associated with so many of the central government's official offices.
Describing the film bureau as "the last gateway for both Chinese and imported films to reach audiences and the market," Zhang first led a group of CCTV reporters to a screening room which looked very much like a small cinema that could seat around 100 people.
"We require that the review committee for each film consists of no less than 10 people," Zhang said, adding that when a disagreement arises between censors, the issue is put to a vote that is only settled by a two-thirds majority. In cases where arguments are severe, a film may have to undergo a second review.
"We require each committee member to base their judgment not on personal preference but on laws and regulations," Zhang said.
Zhang further explained that the 15th to 19th articles of the Film Industry Promotion Law that went into effect on March 1 details the standards, process and time requirements for the review process. For example, reviews should be completed within 30 days by a committee of at least five censors. It should be noted that this is five censors fewer than the 10 reviewers SAPPRFT currently requires.
While many in the film industry have been speculating in recent years that restrictions for films might be loosening in the mainland, Zhang explained that SAPPRFT will make no compromise when it comes to ideological content.
However, he also pointed out that this is not the biggest problem they face.
"Actually, among the large number of films we review, the biggest problem we see isn't related to a film's principle and orientation, what's more common is the tendency for filmmakers to seek quick success and instant benefits [with poorly made films], as well as the vulgarization of content," Zhang said. "The film review process is not just about stopping or preventing something, nor about controlling or regulating film… it is also a platform for artists to discuss film and to raise the bar for artistic quality."
Released in the Chinese mainland on March 3, an edited version of superhero action flick Logan became the first film to put up notifications in cinemas in accordance to SAPPRFT regulations warning parents that the film contained scenes that were not suitable for minors.
While some in the media have seen this as a move toward the implementation of a rating system, which the mainland currently lacks, Zhang denied that this was the case.
"The notification only informs the audience that certain content and scenes in the film are inappropriate for minors," Zhang said in the video, implying that the mainland will not be seeing a film rating system anytime soon.
The video quickly went viral throughout the Chinese mainland. While the full version was aired on TV news and posted on cctv.com, a short version posted on CCTV's official Sina Weibo account on Saturday reached more than 1 million views by Wednesday. And another version of the video, posted by Sina News' entertainment department on Sina Weibo, had nearly 3 million views that same day.
The video, however, failed to win applause but rather was the outlet for a wave of criticism.
"How is it then that ridiculous works about the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression [1937-45] get passed?" netizen Doublehhappy wrote.
"The content you cut from films has already been seen by the public through various other means anyway. You would be better off thinking about how to come up with a rating system," posted Shayuer, another netizen.
"I don't think [SAPPRFT] is opening its doors to the public," a media industry veteran who asked to remain anonymous told the Global Times. "The video was just part of a TV program. In reality, the administration will continue its conservative attitude toward media."
As for the negative reactions from netizens, the veteran said that this stemmed from people's long built up discontent toward SAPPRFT.
"People today are more aware of the restrictions on their cultural lives... and so are looking for more transparency when it comes to censorship."
Jia Leilei, vice president of the Chinese National Academy of Arts and a member of the film review committee, told the Global Times that his personal viewpoint after years on the committee is that the biggest change the film bureau has undergone is that its emphasis has shifted from administrative management to providing artistic guidance, consultation and other services.
"The film bureau now provides a lot of help for film production, including support when it comes to film theory and providing authoritative literature and data, as well as holding academic conferences," Jia said, adding that the bar to get a film project off the ground has been lowered.
Jia also mentioned that the department's name also indicates the internal changes that are occurring. Previously known as the "film management bureau," its current rebranding as a "film bureau" shows how its management function has weakened.