Shanghai Film Art Center stops screenings but vows to be back

Yang Jian Xu Wei
Shanghai Film Art Center, the main site of the annual Shanghai International Film Festival, suspended operations to make way for major renovations.
Yang Jian Xu Wei

After the last movie of the night on Sunday, Lin Bin, a senior projectionist at the Shanghai Film Art Center, waited at the exit to present flowers and say goodbye to the last audience for a while.

China's first five-star cinema and the main site of the annual Shanghai International Film Festival suspended operations on Monday to make way for a major renovation.

Shanghai Film Art Center stops screenings but vows to be back
Ti Gong

An artist's rendition of the renovated Shanghai Film Art Center

Every audience member at the center on Sunday received a flower with a note saying: "Thanks for accompanying and see you in the future." To mark its 31st anniversary, every ticket that day sold for 31 yuan (US$4.90).

"Tickets on February 20 sold out quickly," said Lin, a model worker of the city. "We sincerely appreciate the long-term support of our customers."

"I have a strong emotional bond with the center," he added. "I studied to patch films at the center 22 years ago and later become a projectionist."

Lin has witnessed the rapid development of China's film technologies, from photographic to digital and high definition.

He recalled the time nearly 1,000 film buffs packed the center in 2016 when Oscar-winning filmmaker Ang Lee's film "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" premiered on the Chinese mainland, the first film involving 3D, 4K and 120fps technologies.

The center has hosted about 1,000 special film screenings and conferences.

A highlight of the renovation will be an upgrade to the center's main screening hall, which seats more than 1,000 people. The No. 1 hall will become the most beautiful screening hall with a better screen, sound facilities and services, said Lin.

Shanghai Film Art Center stops screenings but vows to be back

The theater's main screening hall, which can seat 1,000 viewers, will be refurbished and upgraded.

According to the blueprint, the center will be renovated into "an urban public space for high-quality cultural activities that allows better interactions with local film buffs."

The theater's lounge will be converted into a welcoming area with distinctive cinematic elements.

The plaza in front of the center will become a film-culture public square open to people around the clock.

After the renovation, the center will become a key site for movie premieres and cultural products, according to the Shanghai Film Group.

In addition to film screenings, the rebuilt center will make space for more public events in the domains of culture, art and fashion.

Wang Jian'er, chairman of the film group, said the makeover was an endeavor to preserve and inherit the center's glories and dreams. It will also contribute to the city's cultural image.

"The renovated cultural landmark fits perfectly into Shanghai's urban renewal, will better serve the people and create more beautiful memories related to film and culture," said Wang.

Shanghai Film Art Center stops screenings but vows to be back
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

People take selfies outside the Shanghai Film Art Center on Sunday. The city's iconic theater suspended operations on Monday after 31 years for extensive repairs and renovations.

The iconic theater has for decades served as the main venue for the annual Shanghai International Film Festival, China's only grade-A film festival – on par with the top film festivals in Venice, Cannes and Berlin. The center has received nearly 1 million guests from home and abroad during festival screenings and events.

The center was in the spotlight in October 1993 when the first edition of the Shanghai International Film Festival, also China's first international film fest, took place. Chinese mainland film maestro Xie Jin, American director Oliver Stone, Japanese director Nagisa Oshima, and Hong Kong filmmaker Hark Tsui were among the jury members at the inaugural festival.

Over the years, Italian actress Sophia Loren, French actresses Sophie Marceau and Juliette Binoche, American actors Meryl Streep and Edward Norton have been among the cine-celebrities who attended various events at the center.

"I still remember all the superstars in the film industry who came to the center for the first Shanghai film festival, such as directors Hark Tsui, Nagisa Oshima, Oliver Stone and Paul Cox," Wang Jiayan, former deputy general manager of the center, said on his Weibo microblog. "I have such strong feelings for the center and know it will become even better."

His post has been retweeted thousands of times by people who lament the temporary closing and recalled their favorite memories there.

"The green logo of the art center represented happiness and warmth throughout my childhood," said Zhang Junyi, 31, who lives on nearby Wuyi Road. Zhang was born the same year the center opened.

"I come here every June to wait in the long queue for tickets to the film festival. It's the best time of year for me."

The center was built in 1991 at the intersection of Xinhua and Panyu roads in downtown Changning District. It covered 14,000 square meters, has nine distinctive theaters and was one of the largest cinemas in China.

Shanghai Film Art Center stops screenings but vows to be back
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A cinemagoer takes a picture of movie tickets at the Shanghai Film Art Center on Sunday, the final day before its closure.

The center isn't the only local landmark undergoing a renovation.

The 23-year-old Shanghai Book City on Fuzhou Road in Huangpu District began renovations in December, which are scheduled to take more than a year. The city's largest bookstore is expected to reopen in 2023 with a chic, new-style look, catering to young readers' tastes and providing more services.

The 36-year-old Hua Ting Hotel in Xuhui District closed its doors last week for major renovations.

The city's first luxury hotel built primarily to serve foreign guests will upgrade its more than 1,000 rooms, suites and bathrooms, as well as public areas, kitchens, banquet halls and outside walls.

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