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Chinese domestic-made documentaries hit a roadblock in annual box office numbers

2019/5/20 10:05:34   source:CGTN

The documentary film "Amazing China," which is about China's achievements in science, technology and economy in the last five years, grabbed a box office of over 69 million U.S. dollars in 2018.

China's documentary film market witnessed another blockbuster, a dark horse, to be more exact – "Twenty Two" in 2017. The film focuses on the life of Chinese women who were forced into sex slavery by the Japanese invaders during World War II. It took 24.6 million U.S. dollars at the box office.

However, for the majority of Chinese domestic documentary films, it's difficult to break the spell of flopping ticket sales – even though they have a very good reputation. For example, "Four Springs" earned just 1.4 million U.S. dollars in ticket sales while it's scored 8.9 (out of 10) on Douban.com, the Chinese version of Rotten Tomatoes.

A total of 16 domestic-made documentary films were released in China in 2018 and got a total box office of 76 million U.S. dollars, according to the newly published "Study Report of the Development of Chinese Documentary 2019".

That means, if removing "Amazing China" from the list, other 15 documentaries just made about seven million U.S. dollars in revenue in 2018.

Why the dilemma?

China doesn't have separate art cinemas to show documentary films as some other countries do. Therefore, documentary films are competing with commercial films in the same place.

Data show that every year on average, about 500 feature films are released in Chinese cinemas, while the number of documentaries is only about 10.

Meanwhile, documentary films are often about serious topics and trigger some deep thoughts. Many moviegoers say they go to the cinema just for fun or to relax, so commercial films cater more to their needs.

For the documentary filmmakers, some critics say that they should think about what kind of stories interest the audience instead of just shooting a story based on their personal experience or simply out of passion.

Television documentary may bring new ideas to films

Compared with documentary films, pictures for television documentaries seem to be more promising in China.

Food documentary "Once Upon a Bite" got a page view of over one billion shortly after it was launched in 2018. Documentaries about museums and cultural artifacts are also popping up on the Internet, including "Every Treasure Tells a Story" and "Masters in Forbidden City."

Shan Jixiang, the former curator of the Palace Museum, said he was surprised and felt proud that these documentaries bring young people closer to Chinese history and traditional culture, on different occasions.

Top 10 Chinese domestic TV documentaries on Douban.com. /CGTN Photo

"Many Internet premium users pay the money mainly for watching documentary films. So if we take the online 'box office' into consideration, the commercial performance of our documentary films may not be that gloomy," said Yang Haitao, vice president of iQIYI, one of the most influential video websites in China.

"Someday, the online 'box office' may surpass ticket sales in the cinema. The Internet brings more possibilities to our domestic-made documentary films," China News Service quoted Yang as saying.

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