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Art-house film struggles to find screen space despite winning acclaim

By Xu Fan | China Daily | Updated: 2017-03-30 07:18

Art-house film struggles to find screen space despite winning acclaim

The Summer Is Gone, a black-and-white film, relives an era which saw unprecedented change in a northern town in the 1990s. Photos Provided to China Daily

In a small theater nestled in downtown Beijing, a stage play is performed. But this is no performance, but a press conference last week to promote a movie.

First-time director Zhang Dalei tells his actors to enact scenes from The Summer Is Gone, a nostalgic trip for Chinese in their 30s and 40s.

The film hit mainland cinemas on Friday.

The story, set in a northern town in 1994, unfolds in a sweltering summer. Told through the eyes of a 12-year-old boy, it relives an era which saw unprecedented change brought about by the privatization of State-owned companies.

"I was 12 years old in 1994. That year has lingered in my memory as a symbol of my teenage years. Everything changed after that," says the 35-year-old director.

Zhang, whose father was a film editor, had a movie-filled childhood in Hohhot, in the northern Inner Mongolia autonomous region.

Then, the latest movies - from hit comedies starring household star Chen Peisi to Harrison Ford's The Fugitive - were screened for free for the staff and their families at the local studio where his father worked.

The Fugitive, released in the mainland in 1994, is widely seen as the first import to enlighten the Chinese about Hollywood blockbusters.

But Zhang later focused on art-house masters, especially French director Francois Truffaut, known for The 400 Blows.

"My account name on Sina Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter) is Truffaut. I worshiped his productions during my years in Russia," he says.

"The 400 Blows opened a door to make me realize that a cinematic story could be told in that way: Narrate your own story," says Zhang.

The 400 Blows, which won Truffaut the best director award in Cannes in 1959, is a semi-biographical tale exploring the inner world of the 13-year-old protagonist.

Zhang, who at one point dreamed of being a rock musician, went to Russia with a drummer friend to seek a new life in 1999. But he soon realized that it was not a practical dream, and began to study directing at the St Petersburg State University of Film and Television.

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