Last but not least cinema reviewed in this month’s issue of beijingkids is the China National Film Museum 中国电影博物馆. Previously, we reviewed the China Science and Technology Museum, Broadway Cinematheque and Daguanlou. The China National Film Museum is one of the largest film museums in the world. Let’s explore!
In a city where commercial movie chains are ubiquitous, China National Film Museum (CNFM) outside Northeast Fifth Ring Road is not usually the top option for movie-goers. Though it opened in 2007, many in Beijing had never heard of the museum until 2009, when Hollywood blockbuster Avatar brought crowds for the “ultimate IMAX experience.” Besides the variety of films screened here, the exhibition areas offer a great opportunity to learn about the art of filmmaking and the history of Chinese film.
At 38,000sqm spanning four floors and 20 exhibition halls, CNFM is the largest professional film museum in the world and its opening coincided with the 100th anniversary of Chinese cinema. According to the website, you would have to walk for nearly 3km to see all the exhibits. The building exterior features a massive black wall with slanted structures in front that emulate a movie clap board.
CNFM boasts cutting-edge film projectors and equipment. Its six screening rooms (including one IMAX theater) have a combined capacity of 1,210 people. The 21m by 27m IMAX screen might not be the biggest in Beijing, but it had the best reputation by far when Avatar was showing in 2009. Upon visiting the IMAX cinema (which can hold 403 people), my first impression was that the screen seemed at least four times the size of a traditional one. The theater’s surround sound system and 70mm projector – which produces brilliant colors and sharp images – complete the experience. The seats are very spacious but do not have cup holders.
Asides from the latest mainstream films, you can also watch older films (local and imported) that are no longer being shown at other cinemas at very reasonable prices. CNFM frequently holds film festivals with varying themes and gives away free tickets to selected screenings. When we visited, the IMAX theater was showing a 40-minute documentary called Kenya Animal Kingdom for free. The audience was composed mostly of elderly Chinese people and young children. The film was in English without Chinese subtitles. According to the staff, the majority of the films shown in the IMAX theater are in Chinese. However, we still feel CNFM’s movie selection deserves an Oscar for featuring genres rarely found in other cinemas (e.g. documentary, art, educational).
Although there was a wide selection of films, most of them only screened once a day. Access to the cinemas were limited to the museum’s opening hours, so you’ll have to be an early bird if you want to watch a film at CNFM; the last screening usually starts around 2.30pm. Most movie listings were up-to-date on CNFM’s Chinese website (www.cnfm.org.cn) but there was no such information on the English website. To obtain the latest and most comprehensive timetable, ask for the blue flyer (Chinese-only) from box office, which details movie showings for the week. When beijingkids visited, we also received a pink flyer for a special promotion in which movies cost RMB 2 each. For more information, call 8435 5959 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Most of the staff members do not speak English, but they will try to find someone who can if a foreigner calls.
We spotted many families with young children at the IMAX theater and in the exhibition halls. The museum offers free admission for children under 1.2m in height and half price admission for students (except for the IMAX theater). If you are touring the exhibition halls, you can borrow a stroller at the the Great Hall Service Centre for free. CNFM’s 20 exhibition halls feature well-curated displays with excellent English descriptions. The elevators and escalators make it easy for families to move around the complex, and there were clean, well-marked bathrooms with western toilets on each floor.
There were several snack shops in the complex and one cafe with fresh-ground coffee and free Wi-Fi. There was sweet popcorn for sale on the first floor; fans of salty popcorn will have to pack their own. There was a cafeteria in the basement if the kids get hungry enough for a meal, but only one window was open when we visited on a weekday. It offered a Chinese set meal with meat and vegetables for RMB 20; the fare was simple but fresh-looking.
CNFM’s location is probably its biggest obstacle and the main reason why many people have never been. If you do not drive and are not used to taking the bus, it can be difficult to find a taxi for the way home. On the other hand, the Caochangdi art district is just five minutes away by car. If you have the time and energy, there is potential to turn this Golden Raspberry into an Oscar.
How to Get There
Bus: Take 402, 418, 688 or 973 and get off at Nangao (南皋) bus stop, then follow the signs for the film museum.
IMAX 3D films: RMB 60 (non-members), RMB 40 (members); regular films: RMB 30-40 (non-members), RMB 20-30 (members). Tue-Sun 9am-4.30pm (ticket office closes at 3.30pm and door closes at 4pm). 9 Nanying Lu, Chaoyang Distict (Cinema and IMAX hotline: 6438 1229, Other events information: 8435 5959, group reservations: 6434 9100) www.cnfm.org.cn 朝阳区南影路九号
Photo by Clemence Jiang