Conventioneers get peek of new film museum

BEIJING — All conventions need a highlight, a talking point that keeps delegates gossiping and the rumor mill turning. Asian hardtop confab CineAsia’s peak may have come Dec. 5 when conventioneers got a peek of the spectacular, but overdue, new China National Film Museum.

The concrete, glass and plush red carpet complex was briefly opened last year to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Chinese cinema celebrations. But it was quickly shuttered in order for its high- tech equipment to be installed.

A year on and the equipment in the Imax hall is certainly operational. CineAsia visitors and local bizzers were treated to a widescreen unspooling of Warner Bros.’ “Happy Feet.” Pic’s photorealism can scarcely have been given a better test than on a screen eight stories high. That was followed by buffet and showing of Warner China Film HP’s local-language, digitally made hit “Crazy Stone.”

The museum, in an awkward-to-reach location outside Beijing’s fifth ring road, also has a digital screen and three conventional theaters. Designed by U.S. architects RTKL, museum will also have permanent exhibitions spread across 16 galleries demonstrating Chinese film history, technology, animation, news, dubbed movies and docus.

According to Zhang Pimin, deputy director general of the State Administration of Radio, Film & Television, the 500 million yuan ($64 million) complex will likely open to the public in February, in time for Chinese New Year.

Back at the convention proper, delegates heard that the rollout of digital cinema is under way, a rallying cry they heard just as frequently at last year’s bash. While the world including China has certainly seen more installations of digital projection equipment over the past 12 months, the kit can scarcely be said to be mainstream yet and the problems that have dogged takeoff still linger.

Technicolor’s Denise Hsu called on the industry to realize that studios, exhibitors, auds and governments all stand to benefit from move to d-cinema and everyone should be prepared to pay their part. Chong Man-nong of China-Singaporean server manufacturer GDC also reminded execs that nowhere in the world is d-cinema being screen tested for 15 hours a day, 365 days a year.

And while speaker after tech speaker boasted that their equipment is compliant with Hollywood’s Digital Cinema Initiative specifications, truth is that none is. DCI is beset with issues of security and the industry group has not even established what criteria it will use to determine compliance.

Privately too, the nine or 10 companies offering mastering, distribution and projection systems admit that this is going to be a tough sector to make money in. Many won’t.

“The market seems to want a $10,000 per screen system, but given the amount of brainpower and the six or seven years of investment that we’ve all put in, d-cinema should be sold at $30,000 apiece,” says one leading exec.

Question remains whether the winners will be the most established names and the best kit, or those companies with first mover advantage?

Meanwhile in the allied trade show, high on a sugar rush that comes courtesy of sponsor Coca-Cola, a few dozen firms sell cinema seats, exotically shaped projector bulbs and anonymous gray or beige boxes — the servers that are supposedly the future of the sector.

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