It’s so exciting when your film gets funded! But what if it’s being funded and made in a country where you don’t speak the language, in a country where bureaucracy and cultural identity create complex convolutions and roadblocks? That’s the story behind Unmade In China which follows the saga of director Gil Kofman. He finds himself in Xiamen, China trying to direct a thriller, originally written for the American market, now rewritten and repurposed for China, with an entirely Chinese cast and a script that has gone through several Chinese revisions, including one that added in killing a dog, then feeding the pet to the heroine. Communist party officials toast Kofman, while his Chinese screenwriter dislikes
bourgeois Beverly Hills filmmakers
and distrusts vegetarians.
Kofman’s friend and fellow filmmaker Tanner King Barklow comes along for the ride, documenting the making of the thriller, now called Case Sensitive, and working as the assistant director. (Barklow co-produced two FDL Movie Night subjects, the Academy Award-nominated The Invisible War and the Emmy-nominated Outrage with Kofman’s wife). Together, Barklow and Kofman capture the absurdities and frustrations of filmmaking, the clash of cultures (both between Americans and Chinese, and among the Chinese themselves), seven-day work weeks, no per diems, the continually shifting cast and crew, and the struggle between art and commerce.
In frustration over his script being hijacked, the lies he’s been told, and the delays in getting paid, Kofman briefly goes on strike. Then after several months in Xiamen, Kofman travels home for his daughter’s graduation, and realizes that shutting down the film would mean that 70 people would lose their jobs, and decides to make the best film he can, given the circumstances. He soldiers on, wraps the film, and turns in his cut, only to discover that the producers have re-edited Case Sensitive in a way that he can only joke is
China is the world’s third-largest producer of films, behind the United States and India, and Chinese piracy of foreign films costs the industry over a billion dollars a year. (Kofman later circumvents Chinese film pirates and Case Sensitive’s Chinese producers in a very clever manner). Chinese money and distribution can make or break a film–Looper was rewritten to include Shanghai as a location to accommodate Chinese funding; and look at the last James Bond film! The LA Times reports:
China has become an increasing factor for Hollywood studios and producers, who find that they can run into problems when they feature Chinese characters or locations. (Sony learned this the hard way when censors recently had it remove scenes that portrayed Chinese American restaurant workers as aliens in “Men In Black 3.”)
A cautionary tale about the deals we make with ourselves and others to get our art made, and a unique look at China’s internal struggle between Communism and the new capitalism, Unmade In China is also a film about what steps artists will take to insure their vision is seen.
Curiously, despite its less than favorable look at how films are made in China, Unmade In China is presented with approval by the State Administration of Radio Film and Television, People’s Republic of China.
Unmade In China, which won Best Documentary at the 2012 Sydney Underground Film Festival, the 2012 Edmonton International Film Festival, and the 2013 Bloody Hero International Film Festival. It is now playing in Los Angeles and Chicago, and opens May 3 in New York City.