Deakin film students take the temperature of the Chinese market

Deakin students with Chinese filmmaker Huo Jianqi.

Simon Wilmot is a Senior Lecturer, Screen & Media, at Deakin University. He writes for IF about the recent study tour undertaken by Deakin students to further their understanding of the burgeoning Chinese industry.

Is Baz Luhmann’s Australia a Hollywood or Australian production? This was the question Dr. Luo Xian Yong posed to a group of 22 Deakin University Film and Television students at the Meshei Film Academy of Chongqing University last month. The Deakin students travelled to China on a study tour, exploring Australia’s status in the international business of film and the ways in which Chinese history and culture shape Chinese cinema.

Understanding the international film biz and Australia’s place in it is the starting context for all of the international study experiences I have run at Deakin University for students of the Bachelor of Creative Arts (Film and Television). Over the years we have been to India and the United States, and also run documentary production projects in Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and India.

The 2016 trip to China was Deakin’s second study tour to China, which is reshaping the international film industry landscape. Whereas the box office of English speaking countries is stagnant and the total output of English language feature film production has declined since the global financial crisis of 2007, China has had spectacular growth in cinema attendance, cinema building and feature film production. New enterprises are growing which produce online content for mobile devices, and they are profitable. While Australian producers continue to be orientated toward North America as the main international market, the major Hollywood studios now consider China their biggest growth market and blockbusters are being geared around Chinese film tastes.

On the tour we had lectures from leading Chinese film academics and Confucian scholars. We were also able to meet Australians working in Beijing such as actor Paul Allica, Central China TV International News anchor Edwin Maher, ABC correspondents Bill Birtles and Mathew Carney, BBC and ex-ABC correspondent Stephen McDonell and entertainment business lawyer Matthew Alderson. 

The 22 Deakin students are part of a generation that is growing up in a world where the political and economic order is changing. There is much about the Chinese capital Beijing that expresses an imperial ambition, and arriving from Australia can feel like arriving from the far flung reaches of the empire into its heart. But it's the growth and scale of cities such as Chongqing that really needs to be paid attention to. Few Australians have heard of China’s largest city, with a population of 30 million. It is a spectacular, prosperous modern city with a huge car and tech industry on the Yangtze river, exporting internationally via sea and overland to Europe on the new ‘silk road’ train route. It is building and expanding at a staggering rate and scale.

The students could see that the challenge ahead for them is not only about making films in Australia – it’s about Australia’s future in the world. And on neither count can they afford to be complacent.