New MPAA head aims to open doors in China

Glickman hopes country will loosen restraints on imports

China, not Europe, is at the top of the agenda for the recently minted chairman of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, Dan Glickman, who is in Cannes “to get the feel of the fest” and then jet off to the Far East on Sunday.

One of the big issues — for Europe as well as for America — Glickman pointed out, is trying to prod the Chinese to loosen their strictures on all sorts of imported product — including the number of foreign films allowed into the country of 1.25 billion.

Currently only 20 foreign films are allowed in — and the revenue split is roughly 85%-15%, in favor of the Chinese. Those financial terms need to change, too, he said.

Glickman, who as minister of agriculture under President Clinton had substantial experience negotiating with foreign countries on various business and trade issues, will raise these MPAA concerns when he meets with regulatory body SARFT and other officials in Beijing next week.

“I’m not there to beat them over the head,” the soft-spoken Glickman told Variety, “but obviously I plan to talk to them seriously.”

Since the U.S. has no minister of culture, the head of the MPAA is in some respects the closest thing the Yanks have to such an ambassadorial player. The peripatetic, sound-biting Jack Valenti functioned that way; it remains to be seen how his thoughtful, low-key successor will play the role.

Now that China is a member of the World Trade Organization though, “they’ve got to recognize that that brings responsibilities and legal obligations,” Glickman said.

Some folks in the U.S. Congress are even more adamant, having concocted a bill to take punitive measures against China for its restrictive business practices.

Being a former diplomat, however, he did stress that the Chinese have to contend with a lot of “volatility,” and hence he is sympathetic to the difficulties of running such a colossus.

“I tend to be a bridge builder,” Glickman said. “And my job for the MPAA is to anticipate conflicts and represent our members’ positions on issues.”

Glickman will also speak about media issues at the Fortune Global confab in Beijing next week as will Time Warner chairman Richard Parsons.

In his first official visit to the Croisette, Glickman met with European Union Commissioner Viviane Redding and French culture officials.

He also wined and dined with Cannes fest honchos and took in the Woody Allen film “Match Point” on Thursday.

“We have a lot to talk about here — piracy, our local production efforts, the threats and opportunities of the Internet.”

One long-term issue which the MPAA wants to be engaged in is the development of audiovisual policy across the Eastern European countries.

Now that they’re part of the EU, these territories have begun formulating their own media policies in keeping with EU guidelines.

Question is still open as to whether these territories will model their policies on the more restrictive, culture-conscious French template or on the more open-ended, commercially-minded Anglo mold.

Without getting into specifics, Glickman suggested that the MPAA hoped to get its own views across in this debate.

Glickman did not point to any hot-button issues with the Europeans as a whole, indicating that it was mainly a question of “keeping our alliances strong.”

As to whether any anti-American or anti-Bush feeling has spilled over into relations with European media types, Glickman pointed out that there were tetchy tiffs over media (and other business) matters under Reagan, Bush One and Clinton.

He said the MPAA had seen no sign of business being adversely affected by current global tensions over U.S. policies.

That business keeps getting bigger, and more crucial to the bottom line of the media congloms: The six MPAA signatory companies (which are the top Hollywood studios) grossed $9 billion from the foreign box office last year, and arguably another $10 billion from sales of movies and TV shows to stations abroad and of DVDs abroad.

As for the Cannes fest itself, Glickman said he’s verified for himself one key thing about the fest: “No one appears to sleep.”