East Meets West

The inaugural CineAsia film exhibition and distribution convention in Singapore this week promises to be more than a chance to see some new movies, marvel at the latest cinema technology and schmooze.

The trade show at the Westin Stamford and Plaza Hotel has the earmarks of a genuine East meets West encounter in the epicenter of the world’s fastest-growing economic region.

The event, masterminded by brothers Jimmy and Robert Sunshine, brings together virtually all North American and Australian exhibs who are targeting the Asia Pacific, and local cinema operators. Also on hand will be reps for every U.S. major, plus makers of cinema and concessions equipment.

It may be naive to believe a Western exhib will go to CineAsia, find and sign a joint venture partner on the spot. Asian ways of doing business, involving different cultures, languages, laws, and business and financial practices, are too complex to allow for instant couplings, according to John Crawford, managing director of Asian multiplex pioneer Golden Village.

But there will be plenty of people in Singapore intent on initiating or furthering discussions with prospective partners.

“CineAsia will be a good foundation for friendship and exploring the opportunities in the region – the potential is enormous,” says Millard Ochs, prexy of Warner Bros. Theaters Intl.

Paul Johnson, general manager of Australia’s Hoyts Corp., has similar sentiments, noting: “CineAsia will be a good platform for bringing partners together.”

Hoyts will be repped by Tony Murray, the exec who will spearhead the company’s expansion into Asia.

Co-organizer Jimmy Sunshine has no doubts about business prospects at the Singapore trade event. “People will attend CineAsia to create partnerships and strategic alliances,” says Sunshine, who traveled extensively through the region to plan the event. “They will walk the trade floor ready to do business because they want to do business.”

Sunshine senses a different feeling now than when he launched Cine Expo in Europe several years ago. Then, the rejuvenation of Europe’s cinema business already was well under way. Exhibition in Asia, on the other hand, is just starting an exciting growth phase.

Sunshine feels he’s creating the right climate, with all 90 booths at the trade show booked and more than 500 people registered for the convention.

He’s arranged screenings of “Disclosure,” “Legends of the Fall,” “Star Trek Generations,” Jackie Chan’s U.S.-lensed actioner, “Rumble in the Bronx,” and Chinese pic “Back to Roots.”

During the show, Ed Frumkes of Warner Bros, will be crowned Distributor of the Year; Village Roadshow founder Roc Kirby will be feted as Exhibitor of the Year; and Chan will get the Actor of the Year trophy.

There will be technical presentations of the competing digital sound systems by Dolby Laboratories and Eastman Kodak. Among the seminars, Ochs and Roadshow Distributors’ Alan Finney will discuss promoting the theater experience, and there will be a panel discussion on exhibition and distribution featuring exhibs Tom Elliot (United Artists) and John Crawford (Golden Village) and distribs Frumkes, Andrew Cripps (UIP), Mark Zoradi (Buena Vista Intl.), Tony Manne (Columbia TriStar) and a 20th Century Fox Intl. rep.

A five-member delegation from SMILE, the consortium that’s pioneering the construction of multiscreen cinemas in China, also will attend.

SMILE’s members include Malaysian conglom South Malaysia Industries, Shanghai Paradise (the former Shanghai Film Distribution and Exhibition Co.) and Paramount-Universal’s United Cinemas Intl., which will manage the theaters.

The brewing trade dispute between the United States and China about the latter’s failure to crack down on copyright violations is ill-timed for those who are building cinemas in China and who will need to rely on a steady stream of U.S. product. Nor is it good news for the U.S. majors who were looking to get a foothold in the market via the revenue-sharing deals offered by China Film Import and Export.

WB was the first to sign with China Film, subsequently releasing “The Fugitive” there.

One pragmatic view of the dispute is that, because the problem’s a political one, even if it does escalate into a trade war, it’s in both parties’ economic interest to find a face-saving solution.

SMILE officials are keeping their plans under wraps since announcing plans last year to invest $60 million in integrated entertainment centers with cinemas and Showscan rides.

Warner Theaters is working on deals to build cinemas in three areas of India, and like almost everyone else, is exploring China’s potential.

WB opens two more multiplexes in Japan this year, completing the first phase of its co-venture there with developer Nichii, totaling seven theaters.

In Australia, Warner is partnered in multiplexes with Village Roadshow and Greater Union. It is linking up with Village to enter Taiwan, and Ochs says negotiations are being finalized with a developer in Taipei.

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