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April 19, 2019

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Movies can star in Sino-US relations

Collaboration in movies can build trust and create opportunities between the US and China, according to attendees at a recent film festival in Houston.

The 52nd WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, which concluded on Sunday, has seen calls to create a platform for emerging talent and to open a window to China.

“Movies have a powerful impact on the bilateral relationship because they make a vivid and profound impression on people,” David Firestein, founding executive director of the China Public Policy Center at The University of Texas at Austin, said at an Asia seminar during the festival.

Firestein is also CEO of The George H.W. Bush Foundation for US-China Relations. His China story goes back to 35 years ago. “China is not an abstract concept to me, it’s a part of my life,” he said in his speech.

“My earliest impressions of Chinese culture came from movies such as ‘Raise the Red Lantern’ and ‘A Girl from Hunan’.”

“A Girl from Hunan” (1986) was one of the first Chinese mainland films to be commercially screened in the US.

According to Firestein, movies create connections. Chinese film used to play a limited role in shaping how Americans viewed China, but things are changing.

“Most Chinese films in the 1980s and 1990s were about historical events, which were hard for foreign viewers to understand,” he said.

“But as the film industry began to progress, it tended to look more into ordinary people’s daily lives. That’s why more Americans are interested in Chinese film today.

“Young Americans regard China as a dynamic and attractive country, especially after the 2008 Olympic Games,” said Firestein.

Neil Bush, chairman of George H.W. Bush China-US Relations Foundation, echoed Firestein’s point of view, saying that films help connect the United States and China. “I believe very strongly that cultural exchanges and cultural collaboration, especially the movie industry, could provide a great bridge for breaking down distrust and for creating more opportunity for collaboration,” he said.

Bush believes pop culture provides an opportunity for people to learn from each other.

Li Qiankuan, director of “The Star and the Sea,” agrees. “Excellent movies are welcomed by both Chinese and world audience. It’s very important to reflect Chinese spirit through the artistic means of the film,” Li said.

Producer Joe DeMonico said: “The drama, relationships, and excitement in movies are clear, but the culture can be sometimes hard to understand.”

If Americans genuinely aspire to understand China they should watch Chinese movies, he added.


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