Shanghai fest looks outside China borders

Film festival and market extend hand to Hollywood, others

This year’s Shanghai Film Festival will have a much greater international focus than in previous years, largely because the booming Chinese biz is making overseas shingles sit up and pay attention to the fastest growing market in the world.

Chinese B.O. topped $900 million last year — a rise of more than 40% on the previous year, a record 450 films were made and screened on the Chinese mainland, and “Avatar” took a whopping $190 million here. But it’s still a fiendishly difficult market for foreign filmmakers to crack.

As the top film festival on the mainland, the June 12-20 event provides a key opportunity for local helmers to meet international figures. For Hollywood, the fest is closely watched to see if it gives any indication that China is becoming more open to foreign input.

Certainly there are signs within this year’s fest, the 13th, that China is reaching out to Hollywood: A panel called The New Front for Industry Collaboration Between China and Hollywood features a muscular lineup of biz figures.

Attending from the U.S. are Harvey Weinstein, MPAA prexy Bob Pisano, and Jason Reed, executive veep and GM of Walt Disney Studios Intl. Prods. Chinese honchos include Shanghai Film Studio president Ren Zhonglun; China Film Group prexy Han Sanping; Beijing-based Polybona Film Distribution CEO Yu Dong; and, China’s most bankable helmer, Feng Xiaogang.

The Weinstein Co. and leading Chinese shingle Huayi will show Mikael Hafstrom’s “Shanghai” out of competition at the fest.

China’s biz is still developing, and many of the themes at the forum will reflect this, including discussions of how to marry arthouse and commercial interests, how to develop 3D technology and also new channels for distribution, with contributions from well-known local helmers He Ping, Wang Xiaoshuai, Leon Dai, Pang Ho-Cheung, and Korean helmer Kang Je-Gyu.

This year’s festival has attracted a record 2,327 submissions from 81 countries and regions.

“The festival is getting bigger every year, covering all different aspects, like in many international festivals — workshops, pitching projects, markets,” says Nansun Shi, managing director of Film Workshop and Irresistible Films. “The festival is becoming more international. Many companies see Shanghai as a great opportunity to launch either of new films or new companies.”

Still, the festival has its critics. The SIFF Mart, organized by Beijing-based China Film Promotion Intl. and running concurrently at the Shanghai Exhibition Center, June 14-16, has failed to take off in quite the way the organizers expected. A much stronger overseas presence this year at the SIFF Mart, particularly from Japan, could give a boost to the market.

John Woo heads the jury that will decide the festival’s main award, the Golden Goblet, and the panel will also include French helmer Leos Carax and local thesp Zhao Wei, who won the Actress Golden Goblet in 2005.

Also on the jury are Chinese helmer Wang Xiaoshuai, Israeli director Amos Gitai, U.S. helmer Bill Guttentag and Japanese director Yojiro Takita.

Sixteen films from Japan, Russia, Italy, Brazil, Ireland, Canada and China will compete for the Golden Goblet, including “Zonad” from Ireland, “Circuit” from Spain, “Detour” from Canada and “The Rowan Waltz” from Russia. The lineup also includes Jet Li’s first non-action drama, “Ocean Heaven,” which is rumored to be a candidate for the opening night movie, although that has not been confirmed.

Woo says the invitation to chair the jury was “refreshing and challenging.”

“Based on my friendship with Shanghai and love of the Chinese film industry, I want to take this opportunity to meet outstanding film talents from all over the world,” Woo says. “I hope to make more good films and discover more excellent film talents, no matter which country they come from.”

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