It has taken a few ungainly attempts, but the Beijing International Film Festival, which opens Thursday evening, is now looking more like the major movie industry event that it aspires to be. Even the former governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is expected to come for a look.
The festival (running April 16-23) is not just bigger. It is also more comprehensive and well rounded than in previous years. It has an opening night film and reception — standard fare for most festivals but not present in every previous edition of the BJIFF.
The hiring of former Venice and Locarno festival boss Marco Mueller allows the festival to claim more cinematic credibility than it did in its first four editions. The festival opens with the international premiere of the Taviani brothers’ “Wondrous Boccaccio” and will close next week with upmarket Hong Kong-Chinese action film “Helios.”
“This year’s competition selection is the best possible indication of the growing interest in the Beijing festival on the part of producers and sales agents from around the world,” Mueller told Variety. “To have the world premiere of a Japanese film [Sono Sion’s ‘Love and Peace’] in a Chinese festival is quite an achievement.”
Similarly, the expanding international involvement in the festival and market’s industry events point to an overseas acceptance of the BJIFF as a meaningful platform for dialogue, presentations and, perhaps, trade. Underpinning the maturing of the Beijing festival is the continued growth of the Chinese film industry.
Theatrical box office last year reached $4.2 billion and so far this year it shows no sign of relinquishing its 30% annual growth rate. That makes China a market that that overseas firms want to be in, and it makes Chinese firms attractive partners in overseas ventures.
Some 50 Australian executives will travel to the festival in what’s the largest-ever Oz film trade delegation to China, for the by now annual Australia-China Film Industry Forum. “The incentives, facilities and talent of Australia’s screen industry are attracting increased interest in China,” said Australia’s ambassador to China, Frances Adamson.
To date only three films in eight years have made use of the bilateral co-production treaty between the two countries. But industry sources suggest that two more should get under way this year, and that a number of Chinese movies will access Australian financial incentives to use VFX and post-production facilities.
Antipodean neighbor New Zealand is also making its presence felt at Beijing. It will take a booth in the Beijing market and showcase five Kiwi features in the festival. The New Zealand Film Commission has established a fund to support possible co-productions, and NZFC chief Dave Gibson says that one animated feature and a feature-length documentary are close to being set up as co-productions.
Russian umbrella organization Roskino will bring six films to Beijing as well as a group of executives. French export promoter UniFrance Film International, often a pioneer in international film cooperation, will turn on the Gallic charm. At a reception, France will recognize top Chinese director Feng Xiaogang with a chevalier de l’ordre des artes et des lettres award.
The Beijing Film Festival open opportunities for Chinese companies too. Many see the festival as having growing interest and increasing relevance. Online video group Youku Tudou will live-stream the opening and closing ceremonies, while its production subsidiary Heyi Pictures will host three of the Tiantan competition films and use the festival platform to announce new industry deals on April 20.