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This is Story in the Story.
Originally founded in 1950, the Beijing Film Academy (BFA) is one of the most prestigious film and performing arts institutions in the world.
To mark the 40th anniversary of China's reform and opening-up, nearly 100 Beijing Film Academy alumni from 1978, including directors Zhang Yimou, director of “Hero,” and “Raise the Red Lantern,” and Chen Kaige, director of “Farewell my Concubine,” visited their alma matter for a reunion.
It was in 1978 that BFA opened its campus after a near-decade hiatus. The year also marks the birth of China’s so-called 5th generation filmmakers, a group of directors who would later reshape Chinese cinema.
It has been a tradition among this class, a student body made up of 153 aspiring directors, screenwriters, actors, and cinematographers to reunite every 10 years.
Other members include famous actors like Zhang Fengyi and Zhang Tielin.
At this year’s reunion, Sun Bixia, the 88-year-old mother of the late director He Qiong, donated $578,000 to establish a BFA scholarship fund in memory of her son.
For 2018, BFA received over 45,000 student applications, a 17 percent increase from last year.
The school’s acting program alone saw 10,000 aspiring movie stars compete for 50 spots. In other disciplines like directing and screenwriting, only 0.5 percent of the applicants make it.
Today’s Story in the Story looks inside the Beijing Film Academy, one of the most prestigious film and performing arts institutions in the world. For young aspiring actors, just getting accepted to the institution is a challenge all by itself.
Chinese director Chen Kaige (center) attends the event at the Beijing Film Academy on October 15, 2018. (Photo: Global Times)
Earlier this year, the future stars of China's film and TV industry lined up at the front gate of the Beijing Film Academy (BFA) to take the undergraduate entrance exam.
Yang Zhengbao has been studying screenwriting at BFA since 2015. He still remembers the day he sat for his entrance exam.
"I felt alone, but hopeful. The exam was a little bit strange, not like the gaokao. But the teachers were all nice, and they gave me confidence," said Yang.
Alessandro Ceschi spent a year at BFA learning Chinese before he sat for the exam to get in to BFA’s Masters program.
"About one year from when I studied the first Chinese character, it was interesting launching into writing an essay and analyzing social issues using Chinese,” Ceschi shared.
Nowadays, an increasing number of young people in China are choosing to apply to performing arts schools in the hope of becoming famous, no matter how slim the chances of success may be.
Zulipkar Askar, from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, was one of 8,500 hopefuls who took the BFA's preliminary exam for performing arts majors.
"I expect the competition to be fierce, but I am confident that I have the skills to follow my dream," the 21-year-old said.
Students for art exam are seen at Beijing Film Academy in Beijing, capital of China, Feb 27, 2018. (Photo: China Daily)
For 2017, the number of applicants reached 38,000.
BFA is not a springboard to stardom, explained Zhang Hui, head of BFA’s acting school. He feels the Internet and media have over-promoted movie stars and performing artists.
While the attention has motivated many applicants, some of them may not understand what a performing arts course involves and are focused on "becoming a star.”
"The performing arts require a lot of study, and it takes a lifetime to master all of the skills," Zhang said.
"The applicants see hope, and so do their parents. So, it does no harm to allow them to try," said Zhou Tongbin, a film and television casting director.
Stories of overnight success such as Wang Baoqiang and Wu Yifan, both obscure names who skyrocketed to fame and fortune, have fanned the acting flames for younger actors with dreams of stardom.
"Sometimes the film industry can be cold and cruel, complicated and dark. So, my advice to students who hold this dream is that once you find it isn't working out, switch to another career right away," Zhou cautioned.
(Produced by Nancy Yan Xu, Lance Crayon, Brian Lowe and Da Hang. Music by: bensound.com. Text from Global Times and China Daily.)