China's first box-office decline in eight years has prompted brainstorming among industry insiders at an ongoing movie festival
China's January-to-May box-office revenue has declined for the first time since 2011.
This cause for concern among industry insiders has become a major topic of discussion at the ongoing 22nd Shanghai International Film Festival.
Statistics from the country's top film regulator show that China's 64,510 screens had grossed 27 billion yuan ($3.9 billion) as of May 31, down 5.1 percent year-on-year, according to China Film News.
A report from box-office tracker Maoyan released during the festival says the decline may be due to a drop in the number of theatergoers. From January to May, cinemas on the mainland registered 688 million admissions, plummeting 13.5 percent from 796 million admissions in the same period in 2018.
The report says Chinese films are encountering a bigger decline than foreign films. Chinese films accounted for 54.8 percent of the total box office-while the number in 2018 was 63 percent-and domestic movies raked in 14.8 billion yuan, a fall of 17.5 percent compared to last year.
At the Shanghai festival, which runs through Monday, seven top Chinese studio chiefs gathered for the first forum there to discuss the challenges ahead.
Yu Dong, chairman and CEO of the Bona Film Group, says last year was "a severe winter" for the industry. Nearly half of the publicly-listed film companies saw their market valuations shrink.
Following A-list actress Fan Bingbing's tax scandal, China ordered film and TV companies and individuals to fully declare their earnings and "self-examine taxpaying". A total of 11.8 billion yuan of unpaid taxes was filed with the tax authorities by the end of 2018, according to Xinhua News Agency.
Anxious about the market slowdown, Yu says Chinese filmmakers should work harder toward developing new film genres and raising the quality of their storytelling to draw back audiences to the cinema.
"When I started to work in the film sector in 2001, China's annual box-office takings were less than 900 million yuan. The figure expanded to 60.9 billion yuan in 2018. We should keep this (earlier) momentum going despite 2019 looking like a difficult year," Yu says.
And huddling for warmth has become one of the main themes of the festival forums this year.
Fan Luyuan, chairman of tech giant Alibaba Group's film subsidiary Alibaba Pictures, says Chinese filmmakers should get together to enhance cooperation and combat economic risks.
Instead of investing alone in big-budget films, as in the past, most studios now prefer to join forces to co-finance them, echoes Jiang Ping, general manager of the China Film Group.
For instance, Shanghai Fortress, one of the most anticipated science-fiction movies after The Wandering Earth-a game changer in the film genre in China-has so far drawn 12 companies on board, with five involved in coproduction and the other seven in co-distribution.
Other forthcoming major films with multiple investors behind them include Li Shaohong's war epic Liberation, and Me and My Motherland, an anthology co-directed by Chen Kaige and six other top directors to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China this year.
Last year, up to 122 foreign films were released in China. In addition, China coproduced 47 movies with 12 other countries in 2018, data from the China Film Coproduction Corporation shows.
Fan of Alibaba Pictures says Chinese filmmakers can learn from their foreign counterparts. Hollywood's formula for global popularity has contributed to producing bankable franchises, such as Marvel's superhero stories, The Fast and the Furious and Star Wars.
"Few smash hits in China have shot more than two sequels," Fan says.
China should aim to become an important player in conveying cultural values in the global film market in future, he adds, but for now it should focus on cultivating talent and polishing stories.
Ren Zhonglun, chairman of the Shanghai Film Group, says the slowdown could also become a turning point to rebuild a better future for the local film industry.
"The slowdown will make us think more about how to shape Chinese cinema's own style and appeal, instead of hurrying up to catch up with the United States," says Ren.
"Movies are always about people and their stories. I believe a good film, no matter what genre it falls in, should be thought-provoking and artistically creative," he adds.