Shanghai fest keeps its int’l flavor

Film fest still major industry event despite gov threats

SHANGHAI — Despite government threats to downgrade it to a local event, the “international” part of the Shanghai Intl. Film Festival is still very much in evidence here.

China’s only A-grade festival is halfway through its eight-day run, and high-profile appearances include Harvey Weinstein and Jackie Chan, both speaking at industry film forums that are an integral part of the proceedings.

Of the 200 films being screened, approximately 160 are foreign. Indeed, there was concern that there would be no local films in competition this year, the centenary of Chinese cinema. Helmer Huang Jianxin’s “Gimme Kudos” and Huo Jianqi’s “A Time to Love” were added to the list of 17 films up for the Jinjue Awards. Winners will be announced Sunday.

This year’s forums have included frank discussions of China’s strengths and weaknesses as a film production base and as a market for foreign movies.

In a discussion titled “Next Wave,” chaired by Variety international managing editor Eric Mika that also featured Weinstein in a brief appearance, Gareth Wigan, vice chairman for international productions at Columbia TriStar, noted that one of the biggest problems for the film industry in China is marketing.

“Almost any marketing of films played here would be better than now,” he said.

Views are mixed about China’s quota system, which limits imported films played theatrically in China to around 20 a year. Some panelists believe restrictions should be lifted, while others said the domestic industry would be bludgeoned into extinction without it.

Piracy is has been a hot topic, with heated debate often conducted in the presence of ministers from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (Sarft), a sign of openness not seen in previous years.

There continues to be wrinkles with the fest org, however.

SIFF has never decided if its main function is as a film competition, commercial fair (witness the concurrent TV fest, where the emphasis is on buying and selling programs) or a public event (a significant chunk of Shanghai’s annual B.O. is taken during the festival).

The programming of mainstream (and long-in-the-tooth) fare such as “Collateral” and “Meet the Fockers” alongside more obvious fest material in the Panorama section makes the contradictions clear.

Ticketing also once again has been a problem, with no centralized system to buy ducats. In some places the numbered seating system has been canceled, causing chaos as audiences scrabble for seats.

But in a sign of continued reform, this year’s New Asian Talent Award jury is being chaired by formerly banned helmer Jia Zhangke, who made his first appearance at SIFF last year as a panelist on one of the debates.

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