Spanning 14 years from first draft to enactment, China’s first-ever film promotion law went into effect on March 1, 2017. Many in the industry lauded the long-awaited law, hoping it would finally eliminate nefarious business practices like box office fraud, but some, including Hollywood studios, have questioned the overtly protectionist language in its articles. Below, we look at five things you should know about China’s new film promotion law.
- Domestic Industry Protection
The most direct impact on a Chinese exhibitor’s profit-making ability is Article 29’s stipulation that “the screening time for domestic films must not be less than two-thirds of the total screening time for all films.” In other words, exhibitors are now required by law to play more local-language films than imported films even if it affects their bottom lines. The article has come under fire from both domestic and foreign observers who believe this kind of strict requirement will undermine the laws of the market and isn’t conducive to healthy market development.
2) Simplified Censorship Process; Decreased Threshold to Market Entry
A screenplay will no longer be subject to approval if the film deals with “general” themes. For such films it will only be necessary to file a synopsis. A screenplay review is still required for movies with “special” themes, that is, those that “involve subject matters such as national security, ethnicities, religion, and military affairs.” The film promotion law also abolishes pre-production licenses, making it easier for individual producers and small companies to enter the market.
3) Increased Penalties for Box Office Manipulation
In recent years, several highly publicized box office fraud cases have highlighted the need for stricter laws to prevent similar activity. For those exhibitors and/or distributors falsifying transactions or falsely reporting box office receipts, the film promotion law allows the relevant film department to “confiscate unlawful gains and give a fine of between RMB 50,000 and 500,000.” In serious cases, the business is required to halt operation until corrections are made, and in extreme cases companies may lose their licenses to operate.
4) “Promote Core Socialist Values”
Drug and sex scandals have enveloped several popular Chinese performers over the past decade, and authorities were keen on promoting a squeaky-clean image of its entertainment industry. For the first time under Chinese law, cast and crew will now be required to “uphold both virtue and art, respect social morality, abide by professional ethics, strengthen self-discipline, and establish a positive social image.” Furthermore, films from local companies working with foreign entities on co-productions must not contain content deemed “harmful to the nation’s dignity, honor, or interests, or that are harmful to social stability.”
5) No Release Permit, No Public Screenings
All films are required to obtain an official film release permit, even those intended to screen on the Internet or in international film festivals. This new article could affect China’s standing on the international film circuit, where auteurs like Jia Zhangke have been able to thrive abroad without receiving public release permits for their films at home.