October 17th, UK-China Film Collab co-organised an event with its partners, tve and CBCGDF in London on the topic of “U.K.-China Collaboration in Film, TV & Media for Global Sustainability”. Below is the transcription of a keynote speech I delivered.
Distinguished guests, you are in fact the first ones to be engaged with the topic that we are discussing today. If you search on the internet or browse through your daily news, this is the first time that this specific topic is being discussed publicly. It has yet been researched, covered in the media, despite some on the ground practices which have already taken place in the past years, for commercial purposes.
The topic that we discuss today, is what the UK-China Film Collab is determined to advocate in the next several years until 2030.
The UK-China Film Collab or UCFC for short, is a rising NPO for modern film diplomacy. We research, practice and invent different spaces for collaboration and debate between the two countries. We use film as the central medium to embrace new ideas, projects and forum for discussion – such as today’s event.
Some of you might question, what a bold and broad topic – UK-China collaboration in film, TV & media for global sustainability. Yes, indeed. But sometimes we have to dream big, in particular at a time that the relations between two countries are still facing both rhetorical and ontological challenges. When things cannot be said or done on an official level, that’s where the public sector has to intervene and hold up some hope.
If we look at some facts, this is not at all a bold idea. The BBC, despite some occasional or otherwise often inaccurate coverages about China, they are the biggest content exporter to China for their natural programmes. Planet Earth, Blue Planet, Life, Seven Worlds, One Planet, Frozen Planet (all the ‘Planets’)- these series are all available to watch in China. And the Chinese audience love them, most of these BBC programmes are rated 9 out of 10 on the platforms and the audience regularly praise about how the BBC is the top producer in the world for content like these.
There is a rising appetite in China for similar contents produced by the BBC and media platforms are bidding for an exclusivity to show them. In addition, Chinese platforms such as Tencent, Migu, Youku and many more even started to co-invest in new programmes to be made, in collaboration with the BBC in order to capture this rising market in China. In other words, the collaboration is already happening, although little known in the public sphere. Basically, almost all popular natural programmes by the BBC here are also available in China, watched by millions of audience from all ages. What also needs to emphasised is that, the percentage of a young audience for this type of content is certainly higher than the percentage here in the UK.
What we would like to advocate is that, there are more opportunities beyond the BBC model. There is no limit for the creative space, for gentle messages to be planted for the next generation, in film, TV & media.
There is one particular area which we feel the most passionate about, which is film. This is an area that is less explored in the industry, because of its complexity. But if we look at the latest figure of China’s box-office post-COVID 19 – the latest commercial blockbuster film ‘The Battle of the Lake Changjin’ has now grossed over £400 million box-office, in China’s alone. China has already over taken North America with the highest box-office revenue. This is not only a commercial opportunity, but more importantly, a public education opportunity. What if, if we can combine both elements? To ensure commercial success/return but also inspiring the next generation of Chinese young people to pay attention to environmental issues and for them to become the next leaders to campaign for global sustainability?
This is not impossible. Hong Kong director Stephen Chow has already proven that my hypothesis is possible, via his successful film ‘The Mermaid’. The Mermaid is the first blockbuster film in China that engages with environmental issues as its central narrative while also generating a positive box-office of over £300 million in China, alone. If anyone who is intrigued about this film, we are showing it as part of King’s College’s ‘China Week’ event on October 28 at the Bush House – all welcome to join.
While tackling climate change is on the top of the policy priority in China, the film industry also needs to responds to that priority. However, not all of them have that ambition or bravery.
The demand will be huge, the government will expect actions from the business sector soon. But what China needs is more creative ideas and how these ideas can be embedded in their commercial projects. This is what the UK is good at. The UK’s film industry and skills are very mature and professional, from serving as Hollywood’s supplying back garden arguably since the post-war period. These experience, talents and skills, as well as ideas are what China need to advance its climate change campaigns via film, TV and media as the world leader.
For one example, we are currently co-developing an animation with CBCGDF, one of China’s leading environmental charities, about the story of the wandering elephants from Yunnan. This film will be aiming at families in China, both children and parents by using the wandering elephants and their moving story to raise awareness about environment issues and what an individual’s responsibility could be.
Today’s topic is not an empty slogan, borrowing a phrase that a Guardian article used to report on China’s COP15. While most journalists in the UK write and hope for the worst about China including its commitments toward climate change, we hope and invent for the best. Our team across the country at UCFC is a promising group of young talents, who are ready to embrace with any new opportunity. They are full of ideas and bright, please feel free to talk to any of them during the networking session.
To close, Winter will soon be over, and Spring is approaching, if we keep believing.