Has China Relaxed Film Censorship?

On July 17th, 2013, the LA Times reported that mainland Chinese authorities will no longer require full script approval before filmmakers go into production - as long as the filmmakers are working on projects about "ordinary content:"

"Chinese filmmakers will now be allowed to shoot “ordinary content” movies after only submitting a synopsis to censors rather than a full script, according to an announcement from the State Council, China’s cabinet. But the finished products will still have to be screened for censors before they are approved to be played in theaters."

What is "ordinary content?"

No one seems to know.

And this uncertainty - coupled with the risks inherent in making a film about an "ordinary content" that hasn't been reviewed prior to production but might still be censored AFTER production - have left some observers skeptical that this is really a step forward for filmmakers. For example, The Hollywood Reporter cites Larry Namer, a founder of E! Entertainment Television who has been working on local Chinese TV projects, as a voice of caution: "As usual they do things in controlled, toe-in-the-water ways, leaving themselves room to adjust."

But, taken together with some recent (surprising?) laxity in China's censorship - for example V For Vendetta aired UNCUT on Chinese TV in December 2012 - there is increasing evidence that the film business in China is becoming less regulated.

For example, as reported in the LA Times, the announcement about relaxed pre-production script approvals also included notice that the "authorities will no longer need to approve the import of equipment needed for films co-produced by Chinese and foreign partners." (Personally, I'd wait to hear from other filmmakers about their experiences bringing in equipment before shipping cameras etc. to China. But even the mere expression of a willingness to allow equipment to move more easily across borders suggests that some key Chinese authorities are listening to filmmakers. The actual policies may not be ideal - but can anyone deny that the Chinese authorities are moving in ways intended to make filmmakers lives easier?)

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Randy Finch's Film Blog:

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