“Documentary films in China are more accepted than ever before,” says Han Yi, award winning producer, who, along with two-time Oscar winning, four-time nominated Academy Award documentary film director, Malcolm Clarke, make documentary films in every imaginable format out of their studios, Artefact Entertainment, based in Shanghai.
Clarke and Han have created films for both Western and Chinese audiences, telling stories that are largely ignored by the Western press. Their 2018 film, Better Angels, is made for both Western and Chinese audiences, using personal stories to demonstrate why the United States and China must work towards a collaborative, mutually beneficial engagement.
“We don’t do propaganda films,” says Clarke. “We simply have to tell the truth and create the circumstance to make it happen.”
Han Yi points out to telling personal stories and not creating films with hidden agendas as being a reason for their success. Their film series shown on the Tencent platform, A Long Cherished Dream, has garnered millions of viewers and several awards.
“You have to touch people by the heart by letting people tell their own stories and avoid trying to convince them intellectually,” says Han Yi.
Clarke points out the popularity of creating documentary films for younger audiences on mobile streaming platforms. “There’s huge pressure nowadays to make films like Chicken McNuggets that can be enjoyed in small bits on mobile phones,” says Clarke.
Clarke and Han still argue that documentary films are much more difficult to make than fiction films. “You’re not paying people in a documentary film to do what you want them to do,” says Clarke, “but in the fiction world, you’re paying everyone.”
Han and Clarke urge brands to make stronger, more personal connections with their audiences. “Branded social content is becoming too hard sell and losing its emotional appeal in China,” says Han.
Malcolm Clarke and Han Yi’s full interview is available on the Shanghai Zhan podcast, a "raw, lively, and regular debate about China tech, advertising, creativity and the intersection of it all", hosted by Ali Kazmi and Bryce Whitwam.