Behind Beijing's Friday Night Movies
Michael Primont is a tall, bespectacled 52-year-old Vietnam War veteran and
Stanford Law School graduate who also spent 11 years as a monk in a
monastery in Burgundy, France. He arrived in China in 1993 to organize a
John Denver concert. The concert never happened, but China's appetite for
John Denver records convinced the president of Cherry Lane Music
Publishing--which holds the copyrights to John Denver's songs--to open a
representative office in Beijing.
Cherry Lane Music owns and manages the copyrights to about 6,000 songs, but
Primont is best known in Beijing not for his music publishing business, but
for Cherry Lane Movies, a non-commercial club that organizes fortnightly
screenings of Chinese films with English subtitles. This is a
not-for-profit enterprise motivated only by a desire to make the Chinese
film experience accessible to Beijing's international community. Primont
believes that film gives foreigners a unique view of China and Chinese
culture that is not available in any other way. "Film goes everywhere," he
explains. "Chinese film goes deep into the countryside, deep into China's
past. It pokes into nooks and crannies of urban life you will never reach
as a foreigner."
And so, Cherry Lane Movies. Michael Primont has organized the film
screenings at the 21st Century Theater since 1997 although he has been
involved since 1994, when he helped Sophia Wang Bocchio start Cherry Lane
Movie's first incarnation as 'Sophia's Choice.' Since the club's inception,
ticket sales have barely covered costs, and Primont has been known to dip
into his own pocket to pay the theater rental bill. The rmb50 ticket price,
steep by Chinese standards, just covers the rental if the movie plays to a
fairly full house.
Finding the movies themselves can be difficult. In the PRC, only about 80
films make it to full production each year. (In the U.S., some 1000 films
are made each year of which around 100 make into mainstream theaters.) Of
that group of 80, some 30 are approved for release by the government film
censors. Of this approved number, perhaps 10 will have one print with
English subtitles, a print destined to be shown at an international film
festival. The subtitled films are the ones Primont chases down for the
Friday shows. He cannot plan more than a month in advance, as the subtitled
prints are not guaranteed to be available.
Primont admits that he still finds Beijing an odd place to live, even after
seven years here. "As a foreigner you are kept separate from Chinese
society except for a few friends. And we are also separate from each other
in the foreign community. People come and go. It makes it a strange place
to live, so my contribution, to try to make our lives less separate, is,
two Friday nights a month to bring people together."
Cherry Lane Movies are screened at 8 p.m. on alternate Fridays.
Cherry Lane for screening schedules
or see Beijing Scene's Zhao Le listings.
Telephone: 6522-4046 Fax: 6522-4047
Venue: 21st Century Theater, just east of the Kempinski Hotel (See 'Zhao Le
Directory' on page 10 for address in English and Chinese.)
Saturday November 6 (Note: not a Friday.)
Shower (Xi Zao)
The Beijing premier of Spicy Love Soup director Zhang Yang's latest
production takes place in the larger auditorium upstairs at the 21st
Century Theater. Zhang Yang as well as the producer Peter Loehr and the
principal actors will be on hand to take audience questions.
Friday November 19
The Road Home Wo de Fuqin Muqin
The latest film by Zhang Yimou currently playing in cinemas across China.
Cherry Lane's Chinese movie picks
A peasant woman's relentless pursuit to own the largest color TV in her
village. Directed by Zhou Xiaowen.
For Fun (Zhao Le)
A group of elderly Beijingers start up a club to sing Beijing Opera. Many
of the non-actors in this film can still be found singing in Tiantan Park
early in the morning. Directed by Ning Ying.
On the Beat (Minjing Gushi)
An offbeat glimpse into a week in the life of a local Beijing police
station and the hutongs that surround it. Skillful use of non-actors brings
out the flavor of old Beijingers. Directed by Ning Ying.
The ups and downs of a Beijing teahouse from the end of the Qing Dynasty
(1644-1911) until the Communist rise to power in 1949 are portrayed in this
film based on the classic novel by Beijing novelist Lao She. Directed by
Lei Feng is Gone (Likai Lei Feng de Rizi)
This film tells the story of the best friend of mythic Communist Party
hero Lei Feng. Lei Feng's friend accidentally killed him by reversing a
truck into a utility pole. The friend lives a long life, trying to honor
the example and memory of the selfless young soldier.
Hibiscus Town (Furong Zhen)
During the (1966-76) Cultural Revolution, an intellectual is 'sent down' to
a village where he falls in love with a widow. Directed by Xie Jin.
Be There or Be Square (Bu Jian Bu San)
A light, Sleepless in Seattle-style comedy about two Chinese adrift in
California. Directed by Feng Xiaogang.
Bloody Morning (Xuese Qingchen)
A young man returns to his northern village in order to investigate the 10
year-old murder of his father and learns that it was his mother who did it.
Directed by Li Shaohong.
In the Heat of the Sun (Yangguang Canlan de Rizi)
A group of Beijing teenagers hang out during the chaotic (1966-76) Cultural
Revolution. Directed by Jiang Wen.