HIDDEN TALENT: Karin Chien, a Chinese American film producer, is determined to bring more independent Chinese films to the United States COURTESY OF KARIN CHIEN
Karin Chien literally began her film career on the bottom floor sweeping and mopping floors as a lowly intern at a filmmaking company in New York some eight years ago. Little did she know, one day she herself would not only become an independent film producer but also start a venture to bring her fellow filmmakers' productions from China, the homeland of her parents.
Chien has long been mulling over a bold but by no means irrational idea: to unite a growing interest in Chinese films among Americans with contemporary, independent Chinese filmmakers who have little access to markets and capital.
Chien has been very engaged in the independent film industry since she started to produce films on her own over six years ago. Graduating from University of California, Berkeley with a B.A. degree in English, Chien said that she left her campus with a "very politicized consciousness," and in her mind, film is a medium of representation of politics and film producing is a viable career.
As a Chinese American, Chien said she is especially interested in films containing Chinese themes and elements. Independent Chinese films produced outside the movie studio system, which usually tell stories about daily lives and social problems, are good channels for Americans who know little about the country but would like to know more about life there, said Chien.
But she soon learned that it's not a simple task to bring independent Chinese films to the United States. Chien told Beijing Review U.S. audiences are now exposed to only a small number of independent Chinese films due to lack of distribution channels. "There are really good films made by independent Chinese producers. We should be able to see these films here," Chien said.
EXOTIC AND FREE: Cuban moviegoers look at a poster for Still Life, directed by independent Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke, at a film festival in Havana in December 2007 XINHUA
Chien said she was somewhat disappointed by the lack of channels for presenting those independent Chinese films to the United States, but that she did find a good business opportunity to build up those channels. And she is determined to do so.
Chien's project may be a possible way out for independent Chinese filmmakers who have been struggling with distribution and financing problems.
Getting distributed is hard for independent Chinese films without support from major movie studios. "There is no market for those independent films in China," Chien said. She explained that since the theater chains are mostly owned by the studios in China, most of the films played at theaters are studio films.
This is not a problem faced only by independent filmmakers in China. According to Chien, in terms of distribution, independent American films are also facing a huge crisis. She said less than 1 percent of all independent films made in the United States each year actually make it to the big screen in theaters.
"In this sense, our numbers match the distribution reality for independent Chinese films, most of which find their outlets in foreign territories," Chien said.
But financing is perhaps easier in the United States where there is more private equity, Chien said, though she couldn't tell now how much impact the current credit crisis would have on the financing of independent film production.