Chow Keung (Xstream Pictures / China) “the demand for doc about China is going strong”

10 March 2011 16 h 24 min 282 comments

Chow Keung, the executive producer of “I wish i Knew” speaks about his new feature doc coproduction with Italy. He also imagines the future of Europe Asia documentary cooperation and film cofinancing with brands.

Can you tell us your personal and professional story ?

I studied Anthropology and Sociology in Hong Kong, then I became a journalist for 3 years before my further studies in New York for a master programme on Media Studies. I went back to Hong Kong and worked for Hong Kong Arts Centre in 1995. I curated a short film festival there for 2 years, met my directors and established long term partnership, inevitably I became film producer.

In 2003, I co-founded Xstream Pictures with my long time friends Jia Zhang-Ke and Yu Lik-Wai. In the past 13 years, we have produced 19 Chinese feature films with co-producers from around the world, including France, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Netherlands, USA, Canada, China and Hong Kong. 13 of the films were selected to the official sections of Cannes or Venice, includes Jia Zhang-Ke’s Still Life (2006, Golden Lion Award, Venice).

. You were the producer of “i wish I knew” which has been released in Europe. What are the first results of this distribution ?

It was released in France on early January, 16 prints in the 1st week and then additional 4 more prints in 2nd week due to good box office record.

. Have you sold the rights to European broadcasters ?

MK2 take care of the rest of territories besides France, China and Hong Kong. We will do the theatrical release first, to be confirm for TV sales.

. Your next film production with Jia Zhangke will be fictional or documentary ?

His next film will be fictional. Actually after his last fictional film STILL LIFE, he focused on making doc films in the past 5 years.

. What was the subject of your first doc films ?

Illegal Chinese Immigrants in New York in 1995.

. Why are you so interested by doc ?

I love realistic film genre by instinct. I used to be a journalist, then I met my dearest Lecturer Deirdre Boyle at New School For Social Research, New York in 1994. I was deeply inspired by her class “New Directions in Documentary”.

. How many docs did you produced through Xstream Pictures ?

We produced 4 docs with Jia Zhang-Ke:

. I Wish I Knew (2010) (Docudrama, 139 mins)
directed by Jia Zhang-Ke, co-presented by Xstream Pictures, Shanghai Film Group, NCU Group Ltd (Netherlands), Star Art Vision (China), Bojie Media (Chna). The film was in the selection “Un Certain Regard” at the 63th Cannes Film Festival

. 24 City (2008) (doc -fiction, 104 min)
directed by Jia Zhang-Ke, co-presented by Xstream Pictures, China Resource Group, Office Kitano (Japan), Bitters End (Japan), Shanghai Film Group. The film was in Competition at the 61st Cannes Film Festival (Trailer)

. Wuyong (2007) (documentary, 80 min)

directed by Jia Zhang-Ke, co-presented by China Film Association, Mixmind Art and Design Company, Xstream Pictures. The film won the Venice Horizons Documentary Award in 2007.

. Dong (2006) (documentary, 80 min)
directed by Jia Zhang Ke, co-presented by Xstream Pictures. The film won the Best Documentary Film of the 63th Venice Film Festival

. You are currently producing a doc about Italy and China. What is the title and the subject of the doc ?

This new documentary is directed by my wife. Its title is “Secret Garden”. After the Boxer Rebellion in early 20th century, Italy got a piece of land near the city centre of Tianjin as her concession. Most of these Italian building and roads are still there, but local Chinese never wants to mention about this humble and outrageous past. Until recently the city government invest huge money to revitalize the area as tourist attraction point. This kind of changes arouse our interest.

Do the Chinese willing to open up their mind and rethink about the past, or it is all about economic development for nowadays. In the doc, we try to rebuild the actual atmosphere and social relations since1901, thru Moussolini’s Era, Second World World up to nowadays dozens of personal stories we collected.

. Have you finished the production in China ?

The production plan last for 2 years. We have visited Italy 3 times and went thru 11 Italian cities for the shootings since August 2009. The shooting in Tianjin is still continue, we plan to complete this doc by second half of 2011.

. Do you have a partner in Europe ?

Yes, we have an Italian coproducer, Maria Ruggieri, who is working with us on this project. The shooting team in Italian came from Beijing.

. Who is financing this project ?

Tianjin Film Studio and Xstream Pictures co-finance this project for a total budget of 1,100,000 euros.

. Is it for theaters release or TV ?

It is for theatrical release

. Do you already have the support of Chinese and European broadcasters for the production or pre-financing ?

We are still in discussion with Chinese and European broadcasters.

. What is the major problem in this production ?

Due to the fact that the concession history have been past for many decades, and that Italy and China have both experienced tremendous changes, we have to overcome a lot of difficulty during research. In some cases, even we find the survivors, due to their painful memory, they refuse our invitation for interviews.

Finally, the time and budget is a big concern is a big concern to us, because we have to travel many cities around China and Europe for the research and shooting.

. When do u intend to release the doc ? Will it be shown and distributed in Italia ?

We can complete the film in the second half of this year, premiere screenings will be in Italy and China respectively. We expect to have distribution in Italy on early 2012.

. Are you working on new doc projects in / about China ? Do you want to do more docs in China ?

Yes of course. We have just finished a doc project directed by 7 directors, lead by Jia Zhangke with 6 young directors from China and Malaysia. The film is called “YULU”, it will be premiered in HKIFF. This project is financed by Johnny Walker.

. What is the topic of this doc project ? what means YULU ? how did you choose the young directors ?

The doc composed of 12 interviews made separately by the directors. Interviewees include artists, businessman, social activist in China. YULU means walk and talk, on the way share their life experience.

All the six directors are upcoming and promising, many of them may not have experience in doing doc, but they all have the sensitivity and capability to observe and express oneself thru the doc form.

. Will it be distributed outside China ?

We are promoting this film to worldwide distributors during HKIFF, we expect to have distribution in some countries like France, Netherlands, Belgium and Poland.

. How do you see the evolution of documentary production in China and the emergence of new independent producers and directors ?

There always have very good independent directors in China, but not much professional doc producers. But I think the future would be optimistic, the demand for doc about China from local broadcasters and rest of the World is going strong.

. Have you recently (during last 12 months) watched an Asian doc and an European doc which you have specially appreciated ?

I loved the Brazil UK coproduction “Waste Land”. (IMDb page and trailer)
Interview by mail, on 4th March 2011

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