Movie day for rural kids
The country boy's imagination has gone wild, daydreaming that he wanders with Harry Potter around the Chamber of Secrets as the Eighth International Children's Film Festival of China closed on June 1 at Hengdian, in a Universal Studio-style backlot at the city of Dongyang in East China's Zhejiang Province.
The boy from Tangya Village, 6 kilometres away from Hengdian, had just enjoyed his first-ever movie in a real theatre, which he described as "a real adventure." His father even gave him pocket change to buy a popsicle to complete the experience.
To date, young Wu and his friends had only seen movies in an open field in their village, on occasions when special groups came to screen movies.
Wu's teacher Ma Shihua said it's "a luxury" for rural kids to go to the cinema.
"The admission for a domestic movie is normally 10 yuan (US$1.20), and twice as much for a foreign production," Ma said. "That much money can buy a whole week of food for a rural child."
The last time Ma himself, 36, watched a movie in a theatre was seven years ago when Titanic was screened in Hengdian in 1997.
"The movie cost me and my wife 30 yuan," he recalls.
Ma has been teaching for 16 years in the rural primary school at Houchenshan, which enrolls over 400 students aged between 7 to 12.
But the festival sponsored by the Hengdian Group from May 26 to June 1 gave more than 20,000 local rural children a chance to enjoy 24 films from 15 countries in the cinema, for free. On festival screens the kids were able to visit the United States, Austria, Germany and Poland among others.
At the same time, more than 69 screens have been arranged in villages for those who could not come to town.
"The festival is a window through which our rural kids can broaden their horizons to feel and experience some exotic cultures," said Roy Chen, assistant president of Hengdian Group, with the company having spent US$1.5 million to host the biennial event.
Half of the input went to the renovation of the Hengdian Theatre.
Some children were not as impressed by Harry Potter as Wu was. Li Fusheng, also 10-years-old, argued "our Monkey King has a wand too. He can do anything magical and far better than Harry Potter."
But he admitted he had never been to the cinema before, and had watched Monkey King only on a 12-inch black and white TV set at home.
Despite their economic straits, tricks to shoot a movie are not completely alien to local farmers' children, like what makes people fly like a bird or walk in the clouds.
"They have a rope around the waist of an actor and raise him or her up into the air," said a girl whose family lives near the Palace of Emperor Qin, one of the settings for shooting in Hengdian World Studios, where the internationally acclaimed director Zhang Yimou shot his "Hero."
The girl has seen how directors shoot on the spot many times. So she could tell how the director of "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" must have "used the rope trick pulling Harry Potter up into the air."
As the largest film production base in the world, the Hengdian World Studios under Hengdian Group has established 13 themed film sets, covering an area of 372 hectares.
The studios have launched new careers for many local farmers and their children, making them into handy extras. Some have even taken the roles of high-ranking officials or generals in films and television plays.
Ma recalls when his daughter was invited by a Taiwanese director to play a royal baby in a TV drama in 1996, when she was just 10-days-old.
"My little Ma Danyan played an extra for one hour and earned US$15," says Ma happily.
Now 9-year-old, Ma Danyan also tasted her first cinema experience thanks to the festival.
She said if she had magic powers like Harry Potter, she would want to have a lot of money to "take my father and mother to travel in China and America."
"The film festival will have a significant impact on our rural children, who are much less fortunate than their counterparts in big cities," said Beijing Professor Zhu Xiao'ou. "Through the films featured at the festival, they may at least come to realize that besides Hollywood, there are many good children's movies being made in other countries."
Zhu believes a movie does play an educational role for children, either positive or negative. So she worries that "too many American movies might mislead our Chinese children in terms of moral values."
For the sake of less-privileged rural children, the Hengdian Group is trying to make Hengdian the permanent home for the International Children's Film Festival of China, according to Chen.
"For that we could have an organizing committee to directly choose foreign movies which are more suitable to children," he said.
Except for the last one, which took place in a medium-sized city called Zibo in Shandong Province, the biennial event has normally been held in Beijing.