Guest Column with Ian Lang

May 12 / 86

China's new media education opportunities

After inspecting yet another brand-new university town in Yunnan or Chongqing with dorms
capable of accommodating more than 100,000 students, I can understand why Australian
academics may feel overwhelmed by China's telephone-number sized growth statistics.

And maybe even a little envious. Not one of the 20 media-school deans I talk to in China
mentions funding as an issue.

But each dean is keen to ask about internationalising their schools in line with the Chinese
government's Five Year Plan. The answers may have more to do with Australian education
than cinema.

Media school questions often start with 'How can China's films be exported to the world
without losing authenticity?' 'How do you make a Chinese Avatar or Titanic? And, tongue in
cheek, 'Who let Hollywood make Kung Fu Panda first?'

Hollywood has been a hit in China for years, and since the Global Financial Crisis, big US
studio players are now frequent visitors, especially at the world's largest film school, the
national Beijing Film Academy, which I've been visiting since 1993. Guests last month
included Titanic director James Cameron and tiger-tycoon wife Wendy Deng seeking potential
co-production opportunities.

Until February this year, China had allowed just 20 foreign films a year onto the country's
cinema screens. Blockbusters can make small fortunes for both foreign distributors and their
officially-required Chinese joint venture partners.

Thanks to successful trade negotiations between China's Vice President Xi Jinping and US
Vice President Joe Biden in February this year, that number has increased to 34 productions -
although the increase has been mainly in more specialised IMAX and 3D products.

Australia has a strong record in IMAX production, with works like the still-remarkable
documentary Antarctica tending to have longer runs in their specialist cinemas than regular
35mm feature productions. Big-budget, big natural-history IMAX co-productions with China
offer potentially durable earnings and kudos. As a bonus, their super-wide format lowers
copyright risk. Paying audiences still want the huge screen experience.

In high-end 3D too, our post-production studios have led world's best practice with cutting-
edge visual effects work for blockbusters like Happy Feet and key scenes for international
franchises such as Harry Potter.

But it may be in China's emerging, digitally-enabled education markets that Australian media-
makers and educators find greatest opportunity.

For their day-to-day work, China's scientists, doctors, government workers and school-
teachers increasingly need to use media-creation skills that were once the province of
professional filmmakers. Australia's trusted role in the region makes it a natural partner for
developing quality factual programming and digitally-literate educators in all disciplines.

For academics, the escalating Harvard-led embargo on traditional and expensive journal
publishers such as the Elsevier group will only compound an international shift for knowledge-
makers to communicate as readily audio-visually as they now write.

In a hyper-competitive education market, the quality and accessibility of our on-line knowledge
is becoming short-hand for global prestige.

Ian Lang is an Honorary Professor of International Digital Media at Melbourne and teaches at
the Beijing Film Academy as a visiting foreign expert in creative industries. At Melbourne, he
has led the amalgamation of the VCA School of Film and Television with the University, and in
Queensland, was Founding Head of the Griffith Film School.

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