SARFT responds to Avatar rumors


After several days of speculation online and in the mainstream media, a SARFT official has responded to the rumor that the mega-hit Avatar has been ordered to stop its run early in order to make way for Confucius.

At the “Avatar: Inspiration and Reflection” forum held yesterday in Beijing by the China Film Association and the National Film Art Research Center, Zhang Hongsen, deputy director of the Administration’s Film Bureau, denied rumors that SARFT was involved in removing Avatar from 2D screens on the mainland ahead of its scheduled mid-February closing date:

Zhang Hongsen emphasized that SARFT had not forced Avatar to withdraw. But he also noted that viewer rates for the 2D version of Avatar were on the decline, and its share of the box-office was not very high — just one-third of the total box-office. As a result, “Tickets for the 3D version are unobtainable, but 2D showings aren’t full.” With the arrival of this year’s round of Spring Festival films, the 2D version ought to exit in natural accordance with the rules of the marketplace. He also said, “Avatar‘s 3D and IMAX versions will not be affected.”

Other reports claimed that Avatar was withdrawn early to make way for Confucius, but Zhang said that this was a rumor as well: “Perhaps it’s because Confucius is premiering on that same day. But there’s no 3D edition of Confucius, so the two of them shouldn’t clash.” Previously, a knowledgeable industry source said that Avatar was pulled for a very obvious reason: to yield to Confucius. However, because the authorities could not step forward, it was up to the Avatar people to take care of things. “Avatar had delayed its run to give space for Bodyguards & Assassins to increase its take, then Confucius was delayed for Avatar. So you could look at this either as ‘yielding’ or as a kind of ‘return favor’.”

“One-third of the total box office” is a little misleading in light of the considerable difference in ticket price. From today’s China Daily:

Next month is Lunar New Year, the nation’s biggest holiday. With a week of vacation or more, many Chinese are expected to flock to the country’s theaters. China boasts about a dozen IMAX screens, another 800 3D screens and an estimated 4,500 regular screens. It’s unclear how many 2D screens Avatar was playing on.

…Tickets for the 2D version cost 30 to 40 yuan ($4.40 to $6), while 3D tickets are pricier at 60 to 80 yuan ($9 to $12). An IMAX ticket, at 130 to 150 yuan ($19 to $22), is a very expensive treat for movie-goers in China.

And of course, even if SARFT did order Avatar‘s early exit, there’s no proof, reports the China News Agency:

Reportedly, what they received as a “verbal notification”; other people received word through QQ and other instant messaging applications, but there was no formal written document.

Or perhaps theater owners have learned their lesson: in 2007, theaters across the country came under fire for ignoring Nanking, a US-produced documentary about the Nanjing Massacre, in favor of Transformers, a far bigger box-office draw.

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