Shanghai Film Fest now an industry event

Chinese studios swell festivals's market launch

SHANGHAI — It’s business, but not quite as usual at this year’s Shanghai Intl. Film Festival. SIFF has been accused in the past of having mixed priorities but now, in its 10th incarnation, China’s only grade-A festival is repositioning itself as an industry event.

Significantly, the festival has finally released itself from the shackles of its sister act, the Shanghai Television Festival, which will have come and gone by the time the bigscreen events kick off. The two fests have combined marketing efforts in previous years, but blunted their impact by taking place on opposite ends of town, making it hard for delegates to get a grip on both.

This year also marks the birth of SIFF’s film market. It runs June 17-19 at the Crown Plaza Hotel, adjacent to the main festival venue, the Shanghai Film Arts Center.

“Part of the idea behind us separating the TV and film festivals was so that we could establish a serious film market,” notes Wu Nan, director of the Asian business department of China Film Promotion Intl., a branch of China Film Group, which sells Chinese films worldwide and partnered with SIFF to set up the mart. “We will have 29 local studio reps attending.”

Plans for increasing sales of Chinese films and encouraging co-productions received a boost at last year’s festival when a Sino-European initiative by the organizing committee led to 11 new project contracts being signed. This year the mart receives official status, with many of China’s biggest film studios setting up booths in the Crown Plaza.

Meanwhile, SIFF’s red-carpet parade continues to be the focus for the celebrity-hungry local press, and the organizing committee usually manages to rustle up a couple of big Western stars. Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman did the honors last year; the year before, Meryl Streep made it to the closing ceremony.

Sharon Stone is booked for this year’s opening ceremony. She will be joined by French actress Marion Cotillard and local stars including actresses Fan Bingbing (“Cell Phone”) and Sun Li (“Fearless”) as well as director Feng Xiaogang (“The Banquet”), thesp Maggie Cheung, who was a juror at the recent Cannes festival, and Taiwan singer-actor Jay Chow, one of the biggest stars in Asia. Marquee names from Japan and South Korea also are skedded to put in appearances.

“Shanghai is becoming one of the most important festivals in the East,” says actress Vivian Wu, whose latest film, “Shanghai Red” (which she starred in and produced), is in competition this year. Wu, a Shanghai native who has made a number of high-profile films in Hollywood, has been attending SIFF since its second unspooling.

She plans to make the most of the film mart, too, and will be looking for backers for her next film, “Blue Bamboo.” “The organizers are definitely trying to make Shanghai more heavyweight,” she adds.

The artistic focus of the festival continues to be its Jin Jue (Gold Cup) Award competition, which this year features 16 films, and a jury led by Chinese helmer Chen Kaige. China Film Group, China’s main foreign pic importer, recently announced that the film that wins the top prize will be considered for preferential import status, making the awards particularly attractive to studios traditionally excluded from China’s restrictive film import quota.

Screenings are rounded out by the other main competition strand, the Asian New Talent Award, and the noncompetitive Panorama. A People’s Choice Award also is being granted for the first time this year.

Panel discussions and master classes — which in previous years have attracted big names, including Harvey Weinstein and ex-SIFF jury chairman Luc Besson — are also part of the lineup.

For many attendees, however, it is the rising star of Shanghai itself as much as the festival lineup that draws them in.

“Shanghai is just a happening city,” Wu says. “It makes other festival cities seem boring. There are parties every night, and after the red carpet, I always like to go for a foot massage. You can’t do that in Cannes.”

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