Stars Turn Out For Shanghai International Film Festival

Hollywood, Chinese Celebrities Take Part In Opening Ceremony

Susan Sarandon attends the opening ceremony at the Shanghai Film Festival (Image: Belfast Telegraph)

Susan Sarandon attends the opening ceremony at the Shanghai Film Festival (Image: Belfast Telegraph)

This weekend marked the opening of the 14th annual Shanghai International Film Festival, which follows on the heels of film events in Cannes, Pusan, and Hong Kong. With China’s box office reaching a record US$1.5 billion last year, and the country in the midst of a “cinema-building binge“, Hollywood has been working overtime to convince China to loosen its film import restrictions while also making films designed to appeal more to Chinese moviegoers. Some of that work looks to have paid off, because Hollywood’s presence at this year’s festival is more noticeable. However, Hollywood films are certainly not the only international entrants. This year’s Shanghai Film Fest is the largest yet, with a record 1,519 films set to be shown over the course of its eight-day run, and 16 movies shortlisted for the 2011 Golden Goblet award.

Chinese and Hollywood celebrities braved monsoon-like rains for the opening ceremony this past Saturday, with local A-listers like Chen Kun, Feng Xiaogang, Fan Bingbing and Li Bingbing turning out along with international stars like Matt Damon and Susan Sarandon. After the red-carpet event, director Feng Xiaogang was given an award at the opening ceremony for his “Outstanding Contribution to Chinese Cinema”, while Susan Sarandon, on her first trip to China, was given the “Outstanding Artistic Life Award”.

Through June 19, along with hundreds of film premieres, filmmakers and actors are set to take part in a number of forums and panel discussions, several of which took place this weekend. Speaking at a panel discussion on film finance, Rupert Murdoch reflected on the meteoric rise of China’s film market, but warned that the country’s current film restrictions–a regular source of friction with Hollywood as well as the World Trade Organization–threatens to stymie its continued development. From the Australian:

Film imports are still controlled by the state-owned China Film Group — despite a December 2009 World Trade Organisation ruling urging Beijing to allow foreign studios to distribute their movies there.

“This presents significant challenges,” Mr Murdoch said, adding that limited access to foreign content encouraged piracy.

“In the long run, it will only limit the opportunity for China to grow its cinema market.

“As China’s theatrical market tries to continue to grow, it is critical to fill the pipeline with more local films, as well as more films imported from other countries.”

Rupert Murdoch discusses film finance this weekend in Shanghai

Rupert Murdoch discusses film finance this weekend in Shanghai

As the Hollywood Reporter notes, another panel discussion featuring China and Hollywood veterans Ren Zhonglun, Peter Loehr, Dan Mintz, Nansun Shi and E. Bennett Walsh struck a somewhat more conciliatory tone, suggesting that opportunities are there for international filmmakers to take better advantage of China’s audiences as well as filmmaking infrastructure. The panelists also touched on a subject that Jing Daily has previously looked into, one that will probably become a much more common feature of the Chinese film industry in coming years: international co-productions. From their discussion:

Beijing-based film producer Zhang Zhao: In one or two sentences, give us your summary five-year outlook for U.S.-China co-productions

Producer E. Bennett Walsh: What’s important in the next five years is that both sides invest in each other’s projects. Both sides have to share the risk and the revenue, finding new business models that will make both sides comfortable.

Nansun Shi, chairwoman, Distribution Workshop: I’d like to see more co-productions in China and expect that we’ll see more genres added to the mix. Governments should introduce more enabling policy environments to benefit filmmakers. I want to see a Sino-India co-production since these are the two biggest markets.

Dan Mintz, CEO, DMG Entertainment: I hope there will be no co-productions. I think we can ignore these irrelevant matters. We need to focus on the filmmaking.

Peter Loehr, managing director in China of Hollywood talent agency CAA: I’m sure there will be more co-productions because Asian markets are growing so rapidly and many Western companies need the capital and the growth. China will enter a stage of growth enjoyed in America in 1950s. Policies for co-productions have become more open and many Chinese filmmakers are going to go more into international projects.

Ren Zhonglun, president and chairman of the Shanghai Film Group: Our hope is that Chinese film and culture will become as influential as the Chinese economy has become in the world.

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