Sony feature the first film to break blackout

Sony’s “The Water Horse” looks set to be the first pic to break China’s blackout on foreign movies when it bows here on Feb. 16, a week before the previously announced “Atonement” on Feb. 22.

Industry sources said “The Water Horse,” a Loch Ness monster adventure for tykes, would open as the first full revenue-sharing movie, in both digital and 35mm formats.

No new Hollywood movies had been approved for release since November — extending what has become an annual December blackout. This protects Chinese tentpoles, this year “Assembly” and “Warlords,” during the lucrative Christmas and Chinese New Year period.

While local regulators insisted there was no blackout, Hollywood execs were dismayed when no new pics were approved under the quota system, which allows 20 foreign films to be released per year on a revenue-sharing basis.

Some Chinese sources said that state of affairs could continue until May.

The year-old Will Smith pic “The Pursuit of Happyness” opened on Thursday in digital cinemas only and industry watchers said it was a tactical move to refute the notion of a blanket ban on Hollywood fare. Digital screens account for only a small percentage of total exhibs in China.

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