Chinese talent mobilizes to raise rescue funds

The Shanghai Intl. Film Festival, like so many other public events in China, has been overshadowed by this nation’s worst natural disaster in three decades. The May 12 Sichuan earthquake is sure to feature prominently in the minds of festgoers.

“Our festival is going to care about the earthquake disaster, for sure. We will do our best to converge the strength of film people around the world to support the reconstruction in the disaster areas,” says one festival organizer. The epicenter was approximately 1,000 miles west of Shanghai.

China’s celebrity elite has been using its star power to raise cash for the relief effort for those affected by the earthquake. The 7.9-magnitude temblor, which has claimed an estimated 70,000 lives so far and left 5 million people homeless, stunned China and brought most other activities to a standstill.

But it’s about a lot more than money. The public response in China has been incredible, an outpouring of sentiment rare in a country where getting rich quickly has overtaken more traditional sympathies among the populace. China has become a more open country in the past 30 years, and the reaction to the quake is perhaps a sign of a kinder, gentler side ready to emerge.

All public entertainment was banned during the three-day period of mourning, but no one was in the mood for going to the movies anyway.

The situation in China is analogous to the mood in the U.S. after the Sept. 11 attacks — the country is numb, with everyone glued to the 24/7 coverage of the quake relief efforts. Industry players say it will be several weeks before the entertainment industry starts getting back to normal in an atmosphere of shock.

Biz mavens have responded as best they can — helmers are making movies about the disaster, warblers are staging benefit concerts, and everyone is trying to do their bit.

High-profile singer-actor Andy Lau is traveling to the quake zone along with a number of other Hong Kong stars, including Joey Yung and Sammi Cheung. Hong Kong’s stars are keen to register a more patriotic response to the earthquake crisis than they did when the mainland was shut down by a blizzard earlier this year — back then, Hong Kong was more concerned about the antics of Edison Chen and the nude celeb photographs stolen from his laptop.

Action thesp Jackie Chan wants to make a film about the earthquake to raise money for victims, as he was so deeply affected by the catastrophe.

Fellow action film star Jet Li has been taking part in the relief effort in Sichuan and will not make a movie for the rest of the year to focus on his relief work.

Other quake-related projects in the pipeline include “Seven Days That Shocked the World,” a 26-episode documentary jointly produced by Beijing Broadcasting and Television Bureau, CCTV, China’s TV Production Center, Shanghai Media Group, Guizhou TV, the Political Dept. of the Chengdu Military Region, Sichuan Provincial Party Committee Publicity Dept. and Hairun Television Prods., which was to commence shooting June 5 in Wenchuan, just above the epicenter of the quake.

Local thesps such as Jiang Wenli, Liu Ye, Sun Li and Pu Cunxin will take part, lending their services for free. China Film Group also is shooting a documentary about the quake called “Wenchuan,” which it is producing jointly with the Sichuan-based Emei Film Group and August First Film Studio, which is run by the Chinese military.

Chinese violinist Lu Siqing and tenor Dai Yuqiang rounded up some 20 musicians for a benefit concert in Beijing, including sopranos Zhang Ye, You Hongfei, Wu Bixia and Zhang Liping, tenor Ding Yi, mezzo-soprano Yin Xiumei and baritone Zhang Haiqing.

Sichuan-born tenor Fan Jingma opened the charity concert with Verdi’s “Requiem,” and the show raised $2.83 million for disaster relief.

“The song is for the victims. I was born in Sichuan province and I was lucky that I survived in a small earthquake twice. To a specific victim, the disaster is a 100% disaster, while to survivors, it is an accident to be remembered. We should do everything for people suffering there,” the tenor said.

The show also featured pianist Lang Lang, who played Chopin’s “Tristesse Etude” for those who were killed in the disaster.

“I was shocked by the news, and when the organizer of the concert called me, I said ‘yes’ without hesitation,” Lang said.

Jacky Cheung, the Hong Kong singer and actor, also pledged his support to the relief efforts, but he urged celebrities to give a second thought before they set off to the quake-stricken Sichuan province.

“Frequent celebrity visits may add extra burden to the disaster-hit areas where people’s lives have not settled down yet,” he cautioned.

Volunteers are all over the quake area, in some cases hampering the relief effort despite their obvious good intentions.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more