Changes loom in China’s distrib system

Reform delayed, but many believe restructuring imminent

Political infighting among China’s provincial distribs and Beijing bureaucrats has delayed the reform of the country’s film distribution system, but China watchers at the U.S. majors believe the first steps in the restructuring are imminent.

Earlier this year, the Chinese government signaled that the China Film Group will lose its monopoly on distributing U.S. and other foreign films as one of the concessions to secure the country’s entry into the World Trade Organization.

U.S. reps believe the China Film Import/Export division soon will be stripped out of China Film and transferred to the all-powerful State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (Sarft).

China Film’s distribution division would thus become a free-standing entity, forced to compete with up to six new distribs covering all the major regions.

In line for licenses

It’s widely expected that the Shanghai Film and TV Group will be awarded the first new distribution license, and that the politically well-connected Changchun Film Studios is next in line for a license.

Execs at the Shanghai Group initially hoped it would be able to release “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” in October, but time ran out, and the actioner is pegged as a China Film release.

While State Administration of Radio, Film and Television officials have yet to spell out the new film policy, Variety understands each distrib probably will be able to nominate the titles it wants.

If more than one distrib competes for the same film, the Administration will control the rights, and all distributors will have the chance to handle the film in their respective areas.

“Swordfish” is set to open in China Aug. 31, and “Moulin Rouge” has been approved for a December preem. That leaves several titles, including “Jurassic Park III” and “Planet of the Apes,” still vying for release dates.

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