"The Wandering Earth" "The Wandering Earth"

China’s sci-fi film sector — and vfx industry — have received the official seal of approval. The case for more science fiction in the country is made in “Several Opinions on Promoting the Development of Science Fiction Films,” a document published by China’s National Film Administration and the China Association for Science and Technology.

What does the document say? Essentially, that sci-fi movies are an effective way to promote Communist Party ideology, and their production should be encouraged in China. Movies ought to “highlight Chinese values, inherit Chinese culture and aesthetics, cultivate contemporary Chinese innovation” as well as “disseminate scientific thought” and “raise the spirit of scientists,” according to translations supplied by Variety.

What are its suggestions for boosting the sector? There are a few. The document calls for festivals, awards, and talent incubators to foster strong original IP, and encourages the adaptation of sci-fi works from other media, including animation. It calls on private financiers to invest more readily in sci-fi films, whose production can be slow and expensive. And it states that the country’s vfx and digital services must be developed.

How’s China’s vfx currently? Domestic producers lag behind their Hollywood counterparts in the scale and polish of their work. Much of the vfx on The Wandering Earth (image at top), the Chinese sci-fi epic that grossed $691 million in the country, was done by overseas contractors. But the industry is growing fast, with help from foreign studios.

The document endorses this kind of “international exchange.” It assigns as much strategic importance to the growth of vfx as to “the development of the software and integrated circuit industries,” and encourages “the research and development of vfx’s underlying core technology and platform tools with independent IP rights.”

Why do the Chinese authorities want this? Sci-fi is big business, as both Hollywood and The Wandering Earth have shown. The genre has a rich tradition of social and philosophical commentary, lending itself to state propaganda, and it ties neatly into China’s ambitions to become a space superpower.

More pressingly, the need to support local vfx producers is stimulated by the escalating conflict with Western nations over technology and trade. If this continues, China may have to rely increasingly on homegrown talent and infrastructure.

The bottom line: A boost to China’s vfx industry could help foreign vfx studios by creating more scope for coproductions, but also harm them by increasing competition or facilitating economic decoupling.

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