INTERVIEWS, NEWS — 11/19/2010 12:03 PM

Cherelle Zheng (BCZM / China) “Documentary is not yet an industry in China”

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As organizer of iDocs and managing director of Beijing Channel Zero Media, Cherelle Zheng speaks about the second edition of iDocs Beijing Forum and the future of documentary production in Mainland China.


What is the purpose of the iDocs Beijing annual Forum ?

As annual Forum, the purpose of idocs is to create a legal opportunity for Chinese audience and filmmakers to watch the best international documentary films in the world and to  make more well-experienced international filmmakers come to China to share their filmmaking experience with Chinese filmmakers.


For this second edition, which European documentaries will you show ?

“Babies” (France), “Nénette” (France), “Buddha’s Lost Children” (Netherlands), “The Player” (Netherlands), “Presumed Guilty” (UK), “English Surgeon” (UK), “The Substitute” (Sweden), “The Swindler” (Sweden).

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How do you choose the docs ? How do you do with censorship?

Since idocs is limited to show no more than 20 documentary films per year by government, we try to show more diversity content in a limited space, we prefer to screen the films with more constructive philosophy, love and warmth.


You are also organizing panel sessions and workshops. Whose European directors have you invited in Beijing next December ?

. Thomas Balmes, the French filmmaker and director of “Babies”  ,
. Geoffrey Smith, the British  filmmaker and director  of “Presumed Guilty” and “English Surgeon”
. John Appel, the Dutch filmmaker and director of “The Player”
. Åsa Blanck & Johan Palmgren, the  Swedish filmmakers and director & producer of “The Substitute”
. Sara Rüster, the Festival Manager for documentaries at the International Department at the Swedish Film Institute.
. Adriek van Nieuwenhuyzen, the  Head of the Industry office of IDFA
. Gigi Wong, the  British editor

How do you see the situation and the evolution of Chinese documentary industry?

The documentary hasn’t become an industry in China for several reasons :

. limited channels (all channels are state-owned and the broadcasters are also content-maker and they don’t make pre-sales),

. no theatrical system (for doc) and

. no local funds for documentary production.

How do you see the emergence of independent producers and directors?

There is no professional producers in the real sense in China. In fact, the independent directors have to play lots of roles in a film so generally the quality of documentary production is not yeat good enough in China.

SMG has launched a doc channel and CCTV will launch its channel in 2011. What is the role of TV broadcasters in the development of Chinese doc industry?

In China, all broadcasters have to air the correct content in political ideology. I don’t think they will make things constructive and as they make their own so-called documentaries, the audience is kept far away from the real documentaries. Hopefully these broadcasters will release more international documentary content in their documentary channels with real documentaries.

Your company, Beijing Channel Zero Media, is one of the major player in the Chinese doc landscape. What is your main activity ?


Since the creation of Beijing Channel Zero (BCZM), we have achieved :
. a professional documentary film distribution network in China and a strong partnership with more than 200 Chinese TV broadcasters & nearly 2000 hours outstanding documentary films (domestic and international )
. more than 700 documentary film screenings free to the public, attracted more than 10,000 viewers.
. documentary filmmaking workshop, training seminars with morn than 200 young Chinese filmmakers.
. an e-magazine titled “Documentary Film Bulletin” and already have released 80 volumes.
. a production service with some production “For The Elements”, “How Long is the Road”, “China’s Leap of Faith”, “Tales of a Yellow Bicycle”


. new  production in 2010 : “A Way Out”, “Calamity”, “The Psychiatric Hospital’s Educated Youth Division”
. and of course iDOCS International Documentary Forum —the first independent documentary film festival in China with official permit

Among the 2 000 hours you have already distributed, what is the share of European content ?

not too much, unfortunately.

In 2008 :

. “Losers and Winners” (Germany, 90min) Globalization, Related to China
. “Tusks and Tattoos” (UK, 60min) Relationship between People and Wild Animals
. “Hero, You Need No Wings to Fly” (Spain, 60min) Music, Inspirational, Personal Story
. “Showdown”  (France 48epi X 60min) Sports, Olympic

In 2009:

. “David Blaine-What Is Magic?” (UK/45min) Magic, Celebrity
. “Tailor Made Dreams” (Germany/60min)Personal Story
. “Headwind Hall” (Germany/60min) Musician, People
. “Nature Code” (UK, 52epi X 30min) Nature

In 2010: “Forever”.

Some of these european docs are still during the contract time which is usually for 3-5 years.

The acquisition price is very variable.
Do you have special agreement with some European countries or producers / distributors ? Would you like to have?

Not yet. Documentary area isn’t a real industry with real market but the European producers /distributors can adjust their expectation for China and contribute their resource to construct a possible market in the future.

Usually, it takes half of year or more to make a whole deal from the first contact to receive the whole payment from Chinese broadcaster. It is not easy. So we prefer to setting down the buyer first and then sign the contract with the production company or distributors.

Sometimes, we are more proactive for instance, “Forever” and “Losers and Winners”. We really liked it so we buy no matter how much money we can take it back from Chinese market. We think we should do it, or in other word,it is worth to do it. I bought the rights of Forever this year and try to release it in cinema. it is a hard way but I want to try.

What kind of European doc content are you looking for ?

We are looking for content about people, biography, related to China, personal Story, celebrity, inspirational, sports and wildlife.

Where do you distribute the doc content you acquire ? on TV / new media ? theaters ?

Most of our content is shown by TV broadcasters. And mainly over 200 Provincial TV stations.  But since 2008, I started to try theaters, it is still on the way. I don’t think new media in China is opportunities because of the the huge piracy market with little respect to original creation and the highly competition from the many TV channels (over  3 200 stations).

You are also doc producer ?

Yes. I am producing and directing my own documentary film ” Way Out” and “The Psychiatric Hospital’s Educated Youth Division”. I am mainly interested in the current affair. I invest myself to finish all process. I finished the whole shooting of “A Way out” in 2009 and intend to edit after Chinese New Year. “The Psychiatric Hospital’s Educated Youth Division” is still in shooting.

I am producer and director of the documentary film “A Way Out” and ” The Psychiatric Hospital’s Educated Youth Division”. Actually, they are my 2nd and 3rd film not finished. I hope they can be international works not only distributed in China. By the way, My first film about my family almost acquired the funds from ITVS, I quit it when we get into the 4th round. it is very hard to face your own life. It is about the 3 generation women in my family,my grandmother pass away in 2008. I started shooting in 2007.

You are promotiong documentary through screenings and publication. How do you see the impact of documentary in Chinese audience, especially among the Young chinese people ?

Sure, open eyes, open minds. I remember an old audience wrote to me when he saw lots of awarded international documentary film from our screenings. He said: “I deeply appreciate what your screenings to me, which makes me open eyes and see how beautiful the world and how much people love. The flowers can let you set gun down……”

BCZM can also help European producers and directors to shoot in China ?

Yes we can play a role as a local fixer or producer for the international documentary crew. For example, I worked with the Dutch crew shooting “Rainmakers” from the research, applying the notification letter to shooting, post production stage. We had a good time. I enjoy it.
ABOUT Beijing Channel Zero Media

Channel Zero Media is a media company in China that specialized in documentary film distribution and production.

CZM is :

. Content provider— offer high quality contents to the audience and TV broadcasters.
. Distributor & Market consultant—offer a variety channels for excellent documentary films.
. Production services for international documentary filmmakers.
. Training opportunities & international networking platform
. Creative documentary production.

Year of creation : 2000
Nber of employees : 7-8 people
Nber of docs in the catalogue : around 3 000

BZM Website

iDocs website

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