Fourplex is co-venture with Shanghai Film & TV Group

HONG KONG — The 7th edition of the CineAsia movie convention kicked off Tuesday with the surprise announcement that Kodak is building its first cinema in China and indications that the Asian theatrical marketplace is looking forward to better times as the economic crisis recedes.

Kodak CinemaWorld, a fourplex with 956 seats, offering both digital and 35mm projection, will open early next year in the Xujiahui Metro Entertainment Center in the heart of Shanghai.

It’s a co-venture between Kodak Export Sales and the Shanghai Film and TV Group. The latter will provide subtitling and local narration dubbing and the cinema will be managed by Kodak exec Edman Chan.

The project marks a second international exhibition venture for Kodak, which opened a cinema in Moscow a few years ago. It’s no coincidence that in both cases the Rochester, N.Y.-based film giant chose international markets marked by exhibition challenges in the past.

Kodak sees its China and Russia theaters as key efforts to establish exhibition credibility in global markets where studio customers want to distribute motion pictures but have been hampered by a lack of infrastructure, censorship, piracy fears and other issues.

“I believe this theater will become an important showcase for both imported films and motion pictures produced in China,” said Chan.

Shanghai Film and TV Group, a locally based entertainment producer, will also play an advisory role in programming the new Kodak theater.

The project was announced at CineAsia by Bjorn Stenslie, Kodak’s regional general business manager and VP, entertainment imaging, for greater Asia and Japan, during a technical seminar titled “Multiplexing: Everything You Wanted to Know.”

Attendees were given an insight into the chronically underdeveloped state of exhibition in China by Sidney Ting, general manager of Studio City Cinemas.

Owned by Hong Kong’s Lark Entertainment, SCC opened China’s first multiplex, a six-screener in Wuhan, in 1997. Since then, SCC has bowed a fiveplex in Chongquing and a six-screener in Shanghai.

The exhib has not committed to any new sites but is negotiating to develop three cinemas by 2003.

Ting told Daily Variety that admissions at his cinemas have shot up by 30% this year, driven by U.S. imports including “Mission: Impossible 2″ and “Gladiator,” and by what he characterizes as a marked improvement in the B.0. appeal of Chinese films.

Attendees increase

By opening day, 370 attendees had registered for CineAsia, which runs through Thursday at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center.

That’s a slight increase over last year, while the trade show sports about 97 booths, the same as 1999, according to CineAsia co-managing director Robert Sunshine.

The confab continues to draw strong support from Hong Kong, a market that Sunshine says is benefiting from a more robust film production industry in mainland China, India and Japan.

Yet he concedes, “We’re not happy with the growth rate we’ve had in Asia. It’s been a bit of a struggle. Our problems are the same as the local film industries — consolidation among exhibs, piracy and the economic times.”

As for the event’s future location, and indeed the question of whether it will continue, Sunshine says, “I can’t answer that today. We will sit down (after this edition) and evaluate. We have a year-to-year agreement with the Hong Kong Convention Center.

“There is a need for a show like this in Asia. In two or three years’ time, our goal is to take the show to Asia.”

The U.S. majors appear to have downgraded the importance of

CineAsia this year, reflected by the fact that none of the presidents of the studios’ international divisions nor any of United Intl. Pictures chieftains from London is attending. Previous editions attracted a sprinkling of top brass.

Sunshine concedes that a guy like Scott Neeson, recently elevated to president of Fox Intl., can’t spare the time to trek to Hong Kong for three days.

But he contends that the majors’ providing films such as “The Vertical Limit,” “Men of Honor,” “Remember the Titans” and “Billy Elliot” and the fact that they’re footing the bill for a series of lunches and dinners is proof that Hollywood still supports the event.

(Carl DiOrio in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)

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