Our old friend has done it again, another British Film Masters Retrospective season in Shanghai, funded by Shanghai. We have spoken to the season’s curator Mr Jin.
The Shanghai Art Film Federation successfully hosted a British Film Masters Retrospective in September, at the famous Art Deco Grand Theatre Cinema. Over the course of three weekends, the Federation presented 12 classics by 11 British film masters. The Retrospective received enthusiastic acclaim and praise. As an old friend of the Federation, on behalf of UK-China Film Collab, I attended some of the screenings in Shanghai to show our support.
During the special season, we have invited another friend of ours, Arthur Jones, director of documentary The Six, to visit the Federation. Arthur enjoyed the opportunity to have a conversation with with Mr. Jin Hui, one of the curators of the Retrospective. Mr. Jin Hui serves as the Chair of the Shanghai Film Distribution and Exhibition Association and is also the Secretary-General of the Shanghai Art Film Federation. He brings with him many years of experience in film curation. We are lucky to be in the position to document this meaningful conversation – between a British filmmaker in Shanghai and a Shanghai curator.
I have transcribed and translated the conversation (originally in Chinese) below to inspire our readers.
British director Arthur Jones attended the British Film Masters Retrospective 2023 in Shanghai
Arthur Jones: The genres of the Masters Retrospective are quite diverse, ranging from suspense, to romance, to art house and beyond. When selecting these films, was there a conscious effort to include as many genres and themes as possible?
Jin Hui: Yes. We have organised four other British Film Masters Retrospective seasons before this one. We focus on individual masters as well as content centered around literature and music. There are many directions in which a film season can endeavor. For this retrospective, we wanted to select a diverse range of directors to showcase the excellence of British cinema.
Arthur Jones: How do you define British cinema?
Jin Hui: Our definition of British cinema is quite broad. For instance, if the director and actors are British, or if the screenplay is adapted from British literature, it would qualify as a British film (for us). I also believe that Britain is one of the world’s centres for drama. Many individuals involved in the British film industry come from a diverse array of backgrounds—some have a background in theatre, while others come from television or documentary film-making. This results in a wide range of styles in their works.
Arthur Jones: What criteria did you use to select the films for this Retrospective?
Jin Hui: The main criteria were based on the influence of the films at the time they were released. When curating the Masters Retrospective, we mainly considered two aspects: the influence of the director themselves and the impact of their works during each era. We selected some internationally influential British works from different periods.
Arthur Jones: I noticed that the oldest film in this retrospective is Spellbound, a work from the 1940s, while the newest one was released in 1993. I’m curious as to why the films showcased in this retrospective mainly date back to older periods.
Jin Hui: Well, we believe that more recent films have generally been screened in commercial cinemas and are also easier for audiences to access through other channels. Hence, we strive to select films that are usually harder for the general audience to come by. For example, Spellbound is quite famous and had a big impact in China, as it was one of the first foreign films introduced here in the 1980s. Most of us watched it when we were kids. However, younger audiences rarely have the chance to see this film on the big screen, so we decided to screen it. Even though it was released over 70 years ago, it’s a new film for those who haven’t seen it.
Arthur Jones: The quality of the films shown at the Retrospective is impressive. Even the films from long ago are very clear when viewed on the big screen. Did you undertake any film restoration?
Jin Hui: Yes, there have been many technological advancements that make the quality even better than it was during the film era. In that era, multiple commercial screenings could wear out the film reel. However, with modern digital restoration, even reels that have been stored for many years can be presented with 4K clarity. The experience of watching them on the big screen is fantastic.
Arthur Jones: That sounds like a massive amount of work. What was the preparation process like? How long does it usually take to organize one of these retrospectives?
Jin Hui: The entire planning process is indeed quite arduous. Regardless of whether we can secure the necessary resources, we first consider which films we want to screen for the year, coming up with a basic concept. Then, we need to find out who holds the rights to each film and negotiate with the rights-holding agencies. Often, the works of a single director are represented by several different companies, so we have to reach out to each one during the preliminary planning. Once the rights are confirmed, we proceed to book the venue and get approvals. It’s an incredibly complex task, requiring about six months to prepare for a single film season.
Arthur Jones: The event turned out great. From what I observed in the cinema, the audience seemed to enjoy it immensely, and they caught on to the British humor quite quickly. Were the translations and subtitles for the films also newly produced?
Jin Hui: Yes, we had a professional team handle that aspect. Speaking of translations, earlier imported foreign films in China all had translated versions. After being imported, the films would undergo artistic processing in domestic film studios. This included editing and dubbing, which had to be done anew. We used to have specialised voice actors for dubbing in our old film studios. Because the Chinese translation is often interpretive, translators would match the lip movements of the characters in the film to find an approximate fit, before inserting Chinese words. It’s quite interesting. Translating a film could take a long time— at least three months, and sometimes up to half a year. It’s truly a work of artistic re-creation. So we have a specific term for these dubbed films, referring to those that have been dubbed in Chinese.
Arthur Jones: That’s fascinating. I think dubbed films are a culture in themselves. In Mediterranean countries like Italy and Spain, the audience has a high level of acceptance for dubbed versions. However, in the UK and Nordic countries, audiences are less receptive, even hostile, to dubbed versions. We find it strange and prefer to hear the original voices.
Jin Hui: Yes, different cultures have different preferences. We grew up watching dubbed films and are quite accustomed to them. We consider dubbing to be an art form, a part of the aesthetic experience. During the planning of the Retrospective, we thought about screening dubbed versions alongside the original versions. We wanted to screen the same film twice, once in the original English and once in Chinese dubbing, and let the audience choose which version to watch to see which they found more interesting. However, due to various copyright issues, this idea was hard to implement.
Arthur Jones: What do you think the prospects are, for screening art films in Shanghai, a cosmopolitan city?
Jin Hui: To be honest, I think Shanghai already offers excellent opportunities. It’s a diverse city with a lot of knowledgeable and aesthetically minded audiences. No matter what type of artistic activity you undertake in Shanghai, you can find a suitable target audience. Our Retrospective aims to provide the audience with a platform to encounter good films. How the works are interpreted is ultimately up to the audience themselves.
* For the Chinese version of this interview, please see our official WeChat publication.