Valenti aims high in Asia

SINGAPORE — Hollywood’s chief lobbyist Jack Valenti delivered the keynote address at the CineAsia movie convention here Wednesday on the first leg of a hectic two-week diplomatic mission to Asia during which he’s expected to expound on his favorite themes of copyright protection and greater access to China.

The Motion Picture Assn. chairman predicted in a Daily Variety interview that the row over the politically sensitive films “Seven Years in Tibet,” “Kundun” and “Red Corner” — which provoked Beijing to declare a temporary halt to dealings with distribs Sony, Disney and MGM — would be forgotten next year.

Valenti said it was “politically expedient and necessary” for Chinese leaders to voice their annoyance at those films, but it would not “permanently color” China’s relationship with Hollywood. However, he admitted that he had “no feeling at all” about how long Beijing will keep those studios in Siberia.

Valenti said he will tell senior Chinese officials, including Radio, Film and Television Minister Sun Jia Zheng and President Jiang Zemin that the U.S. studios are ready to invest in building cinemas and to co-fund and distribute Chinese films when the market is opened up.

Vietnam stint

The MPA topper is making his first-ever visit to Hanoi to urge the Vietnamese government to enact a copyright law that was signed last June, and in Hong Kong he’ll hammer the anti-piracy message in meetings with the administration’s chief exec Tung Chee Hwa and with film moguls Raymond Chow and Run Run Shaw.

Valenti estimates piracy costs the U.S. majors some $2.5 billion in foregone revenues annually, and of that 60% is lost in the Asian region.

He winds his safari in Kuala Lumpur, where he will address U.S. concerns over film and computer piracy.

Valenti was presented with CineAsia’s International Distinguished Achievement Award at the opening night dinner at the Singapore Intl. Convention and Exhibition Center. The confab runs through Friday.

Organizers Jimmy and Robert Sunshine confirmed the confab will leave its Singapore home for the past three years and switch to Hong Kong; the 1998 edition will be staged Dec. 8-10 at the Hong Kong Convention Center.

Robert Sunshine said it’s logical to move to Hong Kong, the Asian film capital, and a location that would draw more tradesters from the mainland.

Initial registrations for the current CineAsia are down on the previous edition held here last January. The decline is attributed to the currency crisis that has engulfed most of the region and the staging of two shows in the one year. But the trade show boasts some 110 booths of equipment and concessions suppliers, several more than in January.

On the bright side

In his speech Valenti opined that “the financial lacerations” are temporary and he bullishly forecast that by 2000 there will be 500 million TV homes and 120 million cabled households in Asia. Currently, he noted, satellite-delivered TV reaches more than 60 million homes in the region.

Valenti told Daily Variety the U.S. majors’ theatrical billings in the first six months of this year were up in every Asia-Pacific territory except Australia and Hong Kong. Among the healthy gains were Japan’s 54%, Malaysia’s 48%, Thailand’s 40%, India’s 24% and Korea’s 16%.

Noting that a strong U.S. dollar abroad shrinks the B.O. coin repatriated from back home, Valenti was unsure whether the financial turmoil in Asia would be reflected in the last quarter’s results, but he conceded the first quarter of next year would be “tough.”

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