dGenerate President Karin Chien Profiled in The Beijinger

By Isabella Tianzi Cai

dGenerate Films President and Founder Karin Chien

Dan Edwards of The Beijinger profiles dGenerate Films’ President Karin Chien. The purpose of the company, as Edwards quotes Karin, was “to bring Chinese perspectives on the People’s Republic to US audiences.” There is a need for this due to language and cultural barriers between China and America. Most available films and television programs about China in the US and elsewhere tend to represent “an outsider’s view of China tailored to a western audience.” They are very different from the perspectives offered by native Chinese filmmakers.

Established in 2008, dGenerate took on a niche market of Chinese film distribution even as an economic downturn that year caused ten major US distributors to shut down. In order to distribute independent Chinese films in the US, there are problems to be overcome by the company. Karin comments on the patterns exhibited by the current reception of Chinese independent films in the US. So far, “dGenerate has found that films based on strong characters appeal most to US audiences, while film festival pedigree makes the films much easier to sell.” Moreover, as Edwards quotes Karin,

while American interest in China is at an all time high, many Americans are simply not ready to engage with the radically different approaches to storytelling and confronting content that frequently characterise independent Chinese cinema.

While these factors represent a challenge for the company in the US, the challenge that the company faces within China is “building relationships with local filmmakers.” Local filmmakers tend to lack the knowledge about the business operations in film distribution overseas. For example, a majority of them do not know that by premiering their films in small-scale American film festivals can prevent their films from entering major film festivals. As a result, building trust with them is dGenerate’s top priority.

Interestingly, epistemological differences on the term “independent cinema” also prevail, and Karin affirms the freedom from market pressures enjoyed Chinese producers and filmmakers. Edwards writes,

“Independent” in the US has simply become a marketing term, whereas in China it is a designation with real meaning. Some Chinese directors move between the official and unofficial sectors, but many are committed for artistic and/or political reasons to consistently producing work outside the state-sanctioned industry and its censorship apparatus.

Underlying these efforts is a desire to preserve this independent spirit while helping Chinese independent filmmakers advance their work to a larger audience. As Edwards puts them in his concluding remarks,

The willingness of Karin Chien and the rest of the dGenerate team to engage with local conditions, rather than impose an outside way of doing things, is encouraging and bodes well for future cooperation between the company and China’s independent sector. I witnessed first hand the time Karin puts into building relationships on the ground here in China, and her belief in the work taking place outside official channels. In an age when art often feels utterly beholden to capital, it was refreshing to meet someone so quietly driven by a passion for work inspired neither by money nor a desire for fame.

Read the full profile.

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