Although not particularly well-known internationally, the Beijing Film Academy (BFA) is famed throughout China. So, not surprisingly, competition to get into this elite school is intense.
Its most famous graduates are the so-called Fifth Generation filmmakers like Zhang Yimou and Tian Zhuangzhuang who both studied at the school in the late 1970s. But it has also produced some of the most famous actors in the country. Actress and director Zhao Wei (So Young) graduated from BFA, as did Huang Xiaoming (American Dream in China). Other notable alumni include Xu Jinglei and Xu Qing, both mentioned regularly in WiC.
Thanks to its prestige, the BFA has one of the toughest admissions policies in China.
Aspiring students have to ace three auditions before they are accepted. One applicant told the New York Times that her mother was unable to handle the stress of watching her daughter go through them. “After I passed the third audition, my mother and I cried together,” she recalls.
This year the school accepted just 573 students from tens of thousands of applicants. BFA says it was especially competitive because it received a higher number of applications than usual. “It’s really the cream of the crop that got in,” concludes Tencent Entertainment.
One factor driving student demand is China’s booming film scene. The movie industry is forecast to earn revenues of Rmb20 billion ($3.26 billion) this year and studios are increasing spending on everything from screenwriters to stage designers. All that means that the career prospect facing BFA graduates have never been rosier.
In fact, the allure of the industry has even attracted foreign talent to study at BFA. The school, Asia’s largest of its kind, says it now receives students from Japan, Germany and South Korea. “What I see in the Chinese film industry is its growing power and an emerging big market, which provides profound possibilities and opportunities for young workers,” one German student told Xinhua.
The BFA was the brainchild of the actor and director Yuan Muzhi. In 1940 he visited the VGIK film academy in Moscow and saw a model for his own country’s cinematic future. Along with the actress Chen Boer and others, Yuan founded the Performing Art Research Institute in 1950. In 1956, under the leadership of Zhang Min, the school’s first president, the BFA took on its present identity.
The BFA has moved on from its sturdy ideological origins. Last week, an article about orientation day for the new student intake became the most searched topic on Baidu, China’s leading search engine. The reason? Photos of the budding actors went viral online as netizens speculated on which of the students were most likely to become tomorrow’s household names.
Predictably their looks were the determining factor, as far as many onlookers were concerned. One student was compared to Angelababy (see Red Star in issue 29) and another was dubbed a “younger Cecilia Cheung”. Eagle-eyed netizens also pointed out that many students were bringing designer handbags to school, another sharp contrast to the earlier days when Zhang and Tian were students and Mao suits were still de rigueur.
Perhaps some of the new arrivals were taking it for granted that stardom lies ahead too. Certainly a little complacency was in evidence when the paparazzi’s cameras caught a number of the stars of the future sleeping their way through the orientation meetings…
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