China talent breakthrough

Overseas-education | Lisa Kao 12 Nov 2019

Introduced in 2003, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts' Breakthrough Brits initiative has brought more than 100 emerging British talents to global attention.

They include well-known names like Spider-Man star Tom Holland, who was named a Bafta Breakthrough Brit in 2013, and Black Panther's Shuri, Letitia Wright, who was named in 2015.

With more than 40 percent of the Breakthrough Brits becoming winners or nominees for the Baftas or the Film, Games or Television awards ceremonies after 12 months of its mentoring program, Bafta is now proudly expanding the program to China.

"China is an important and valued creative partner for the British film, games and television industries," said Bafta chief executive Amanda Berry. "The potential for further collaboration is huge."

Launching Breakthrough China this year, Bafta aims to offer cultural exchange opportunities for new Chinese talents in the early stages of their career.

"This is something our members and the wider British creative industries are very interested in," said Berry.

"Bafta recognizes that the film, games and television industries are becoming ever more global, and believes that opportunities for creativity and innovation will increasingly result from collaboration between nations."

Like the Bafta Breakthrough Brits, winners of Breakthrough China will go through a year-long mentoring and guidance program in the UK, which allows them to go through exchanges of experiences.

For example, Holland was supported by Bafta-winning film producer David Heyman and actor Cillian Murphy; while Letitia Wright was led by actress Olivia Colman and Naomie Harris.

"But the program is bespoke," said Berry. "And each winner will work with Bafta to shape the program that works best for them."

After announcing the exciting program in China in August, the academy received board applications from directors, writers, producers, actors and game developers, and the five winners were announced late last month.

"When I knew I had received the award, I couldn't have been happier," said director Bai Xue.

"It's quite a bonus when you're stuck in screenwriting."

Recalling her days before her breakthrough movie The Crossing, Bai said she had a hard start.

"My graduation was literally the start of my unemployment. I had never thought it would be this way," she said. "I thought it over that to be a good director, you have got to experience a lot in your life. So I got married and had a baby, living my life."

But directing was still in Bai's blood. She kept writing and returned to the film industry with her movie The Crossing last year, a youth drama about cross-border students, based on the reality of her own experience.

"I spent two years doing interviews and research, and distilled an imaginary story and the heroine Peipei."

Despite not expecting too much, The Crossing became a hit and was nominated for the Asian Film Awards for Best Newcomer and Best New Director."

"I didn't expect it would get this far. All I was thinking about was to make a genuine movie with heart. Above all, this is the result of a collaboration, it's not just about my personal success," said Bai.

The success brought fame and confidence to the director and connected her to commercial films.

However, she is still far from being satisfied and is dedicated to lifelong learning.

"Fame can be an illusion. There are still so many things I need to learn," said Bai. She did not hesitate in applying for the China program and is looking forward to taking herself to the next level.

"The world is changing ever so fast. And I have never been so hungry to take in all these wonderful new things," said Bai.

Hoping to have director Mike Leigh or actor Tom Hiddleston as her mentors, Bai is excited about the British-Chinese cultural exchange and has set herself a global goal.

"I hope that in five years, my films will get more foreign friends to know China better. My next film happens to be a multinational one, the story is set in a place outside China."

The 34-year-old hopes she can be like her idol, multi-award-winning director Ang Lee, one day.

Apart from Bai, four others were selected by a jury formed by industry experts and key opinion leaders in China and the UK. They are actress and director Bonnie Chen, game producer Guan Dan, film producer He Bin and line producer Ye Ting.

"Even though this was the first Bafta Breakthrough China, we were encouraged by the enthusiasm and potential of the many applicants this year," said Lee Schuneman, jury chair of Bafta Breakthrough China. "It was certainly not an easy judging process.

"We were proud to acknowledge that each of the winning entries demonstrated a remarkable level of passion, creativity and talent. We were very impressed."

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