Founded in 2005 to celebrate 100 years of making movies, the China National Film Museum is a fascinating way to step back in time in Beijing. Intrepid’s Bob Golodets gives you tips to enjoy the world’s largest professional film museum…
“This museum is entertainment for anyone who enjoys going to the movies. It’s a real house of cinema and well worth a visit, even though it will take you some effort to get there. It’s reminiscent of a shopping mall in Russia: built outside the border of the city where the taxes are lower and similar in size. There is a huge reception hall, plus kiosks selling magazines and souvenirs, the cinema ticket office and more than 20 big halls displaying a collection of over 1500 films and 4300 still images from works of 450 filmmakers!
There is an array of different exhibition topics united under the cinema theme: the beginning of cinema, first steps, history of Chinese cinema, movies for children, documentary movies, Hong Kong movies, Taiwan movies, dubbing of movies, special effects, modern level of industry. Hard even to enumerate all the halls, which consist of 5-10 rooms each, 10-20 exhibits each. So my advice is to arrive early in the day. On my first visit I had to leave in a rush when after 4-5 hours of wandering, the museum closed!
Most exhibits have at least several words of explanation in English, but for more info I opted for the audio guide. It cost only 10 yuan – less than US$2. I didn’t hold any hope when I asked if they possibly had the audio tour available in Russian, my native language. But sure enough the receptionists consulted with each other for a minute and then turned the device to a pure Russian speaking voice.
By the way, entry to the museum is free! It’s part of the Chinese government’s initiative to enlighten the nation, but even so there were very few other visitors and of these only half were locals.
A special board lists names and signatures of celebrities who have visited the museum. No wonder they also liked seeing one of the world’s biggest homages to the movie business. Even Lumier representatives donated one of the first cameras to display.
The museum opens the curtain on the Chinese art of cinema and it’s an opportunity for foreigners to views films that may make it to international festivals but are rarely screened in movie theatres. A lot of films are on the communist theme and were used for propaganda purposes, that’s why they are not famous abroad and were even avoid by the western world as they did not want to support communist propaganda. But political issues aside, these films are made by very talented actors and cinema professionals and are pieces of art. In the museum there are a lot of monitors with extracts of national films – they are brief screenings but it’s enough to appreciate the artistic level of the productions.
I mentioned earlier that you will need to plan your visit, as it’s not in the centre of Beijing. The easiest way to find it is by taxi, but many travellers prefer public transport as the local interaction is part of the experience, so here are some directions to help you arrive safely:
You take Subway ring line 2 to Dongzhimen station and then public bus number 418 or 688. Get off at Nao Gao stop and follow the signs to the museum. You have to walk little bit back, turn left, go under the bridge on the road because there is no footpath. And then eventually you’ll see the huge ensemble of buildings. For more info you can visit the website Cnfm.org.cn.
I hope that even if you are not interested in cinema generally and in Chinese cinema particularly, a visit to this museum will awaken your curiosity of Chinese films. Now they are mainly excluded from the worlds history of cinema and this seems unfair. I believe that China National Film Museum will help to dispose this injustice. The strength of the exhibits speak on their own and I’m sure Hollywood would be envious of this fantastic house of cinema in Beijing!”
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* photo by Shane Djordjewitsch – Intrepid Photography Competition