Ulla Jacobsen
Jacobsen was previously editor in chief of the DOX Magazine from March 1998 until early 2009. A lot of the DOX articles republished in ModernTimes was ordered by her. After 2009 she worked freelance, until she died in 2013.

Festivals and broadcasters around the world have started to show immense interest in Chinese docs, and China has started to become aware of the international doc business

One of the newer creations is GZ Doc (Guangzhou International Documentary Festival) established in 2003 and keen on being an international event for docs in China. DOX met He Shaoguang, the festival’s general manager, at Hot Docs.

GZ Doc was held for the first time in 2003 and, ever since, the festival organisers have been actively establishing international contacts to make GZ Doc a true international event, aiming to attract the international doc business to Guangzhou. GZ cooperates with Hot Docs, Leipzig DOK and Cracow Film Festival by exchanging films and GZ sent a delegation of Chinese producers to Hot Docs to help them to get international contacts and observe how international festivals work. As a festival, GZ is not only interested in showing docs but is very involved in developing the whole Chinese doc market.

He Shaoguang, General Manager of GZ Doc, explains that the founders of GZ Doc established the festival because “the doc market in China is still not a mature market. It is a low market, so the intentions of both producers and filmmakers and of the government are to promote the documentary market, trying to use this festival as a vehicle, a platform.”

That means attracting mainly foreign financers to attend the festival as there is little money available to independent doc makers in China, a strategy that has already succeeded to a great extent. Already at the second festival in 2004, a pitching forum was introduced. In 2005, the festival was further developed and attracted quite an impressive number of key doc CEs from Europe, Canada, Australia and elsewhere. In 2005, GZ also started working together with Leipzig DOK, Hot Docs and Cracow Film Festival. GZ is developing fast and its efforts appear to bear fruit. He Shaoguang says, “We don’t know yet if there is any funding coming from the pitching (to the producers), but in terms of using the festival as a platform to communicate, to connect to each other, there are some successful cases which happened at our festival in terms of meeting people. Besides, it is good for China to be involved in an international event.”

The festival focuses on the business aspects but is also concerned about presenting docs to a Chinese audience. He Shaoguang says, “My particular wish is to get the Chinese audience to appreciate documentaries.”

In principle, documentaries on any subject can enter the festival, but the competition has a theme each year, which naturally places some restrictions on the individual programmes. In 2003, the theme was ‘Cultural Heritage’, in 2004 ‘Children and Teenagers’, in 2005 ‘Women Today’ and the 2006 theme will be ‘Facing Poverty’. When asked at a panel discussion about possible censorship by the Chinese government, GZ’s representatives explained the procedure: a pre-selection committee judges whether films are ‘suitable for a Chinese audience’, which mainly means that docs on Tibet, Taiwan and Falun Gong or docs that are too critical of the Chinese government will not be accepted.

Though Chinese documentary filmmakers are eager to get connections to foreign funding sources, there are small signs of openings in the domestic market, according to He Shaoguang. “From the year we established this event up till now, a time of three years, the documentary picture in China has changed and three satellite channels are being set up that are dedicated to documentaries. The last two years, CCTV (Chinese national TV) has started to purchase docs from private enterprises, from independent producers, not many, but they invest and they own the copyright. Although we cannot be too optimistic, I think we are making progress. There is a hope that the satellite channel and the current situation may change a little bit.”

GZ Doc is financed by Guangzhou Television, the city of Guangzhou and the province of Guangdong. It is the only festival of its kind in China with a TV market dedicated to docs. The festival will sponsor twenty Chinese filmmakers/producers to attend international festivals in 2007.

GZ Doc 2006
4–9 December
Deadline for entries: 9 September