Gathering debuts with local, international talent

The first Beijing Film Festival bowed on Saturday with a muscular gathering of local talent, as well as a strong cast of international helmers and fest directors.

“Black Swan” helmer Darren Aronofsky and “The Forbidden Kingdom” director Rob Minkoff walked the red carpet at the China National Grand Theater, alongside local celebs helmer Feng Xiaogang and thesps Zhang Ziyi, Fan Bingbing and Tang Wei, returning to the limelight after having been banned from acting by the Chinese government for her sexually-charged role in Ang Lee’s controversial “Lust, Caution.”

Hong Kong, which increasingly relies on the mainland for support, was represented by Jackie Chan and helmers John Woo and Peter Chan at the live televised event. Among fest folk were Venice’s artistic director Marco Mueller and Toronto’s co-director Cameron Bailey.

Organized by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television and the Beijing city government, the six-day fest does not have a competition but it will unspool films and hold forums, film marketing discussions and concerts.

It offers access to a range of Hollywood pics including “Black Swan” and helmer David Fincher’s “The Social Network,” about the rise of Facebook, which is banned in China, both of which are unlikely to be released outside the fest.

China Film Academy prexy Zhang Huijun said the world had witnessed Chinese culture through Hollywood movies such as “Kung Fu Panda” and “Mulan,” and that the fest provided a way to learn more.

“Chinese culture should be better known, and so should the Chinese movie market,” he said.

These sentiments will resonate outside China, where the country’s burgeoning biz is attracting ever more attention. Hollywood is particularly eager to access the growing box office in the world’s most populous nation.

But the quota system of 20 overseas pics allowed into the country on a revenue-sharing basis, combined with opaque regulation, rampant piracy and other restrictions make it a tough market to break into.The Beijing fest joins the Shanghai Film Festival in June, the country’s other international fest.If Beijing takes off, it will join the growing ranks of Asian fests vying for international attention, including Tokyo, Pusan, Shanghai and ScreenSingapore, which is due to bow in June.Certainly China’s B.O. warrants keener international attention.

Chinese B.O. topped $1.5 billion last year, up 40% on 2009, and a record 450 films were made and screened on the mainland, making it a serious draw for investors from China and overseas.

The BJIFF unofficially bowed earlier last week with the world premiere of “The Lost Bladesman,” starring Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen.

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