The VIP list at the second Beijing Film Festival and market was a testament to the rising power of Chinese cinema despite the backdrop of an SEC probe into possible bribes by Hollywood shingles and political turmoil.
During the weeklong fest, which wrapped Saturday, the overarching theme was how to get Hollywood and China to work together, a subject given fresh impetus now that China is ready to relax its quota rules and allow in more foreign pics.
Per organizers, the value of deals signed this year was up 89% on last year to 5.27 billion yuan ($476 million). Pacts involving 21 film projects were signed, including six co-productions.
Transcontinental matchmaking requires muscular personnel, and among the more than 2,000 industryites in Beijing were helmer James Cameron; Fox chief Jim Gianopulos; China Film prexy Han Sanping; Tong Gang, head of the film bureau at the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television; “Avengers” thesp Jeremy Renner; and producer Jon Landau.
Cameron said Hollywood was looking seriously at co-productions in China, although he said censorship was an issue to consider. He and his team have been linked to a new Chinese film, “The Art of War.”
Beijing’s Nasdaq-listed Bona Film Group said it was in talks with Fox, Paramount and Universal to co-produce and distribute projects to drive future growth.
The China Film Group announced a pact with L.A.-based New Deal Studios to co-produce pics in China, including a war movie helmed by Fang Gangliang, which would serve as a test project.
Writer and producer Roxanne Messina Captor tied in China Film Group to co-finance and co-producer her project about the life of Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck, who was in China during the upheaval of the 1920s.
“We are planning a co-production involving Sony and Fox and some private investors, and there has been a good response to the script,” said Messina Captor, a former exec director of the San Francisco Film Society.
Mike Medavoy will advise on the project, 85% of which will be shot in China.
DeSanto hopes to bring his superhero expertise to “Gods,” a co-production with Beijing-based Yi Shang Media, which looks at a pantheon of demi-gods from classical Chinese literature.
“It’s exciting to do a story that’s been around for thousands of years. We want to make it a global franchise, a live-action, 3D ‘X-Men’ meets ‘Lord of the Rings.’ We are pretty much there on funding, and the budget will be enough to compete with big Hollywood tentpoles,” DeSanto said.
The SEC probe into U.S. shingles’ dealings with cadres came at a sensitive time as corruption is frequently in the news in China.
“This is still a relatively small industry here in China and much less prone to corruption than the billion-dollar industries like mining. But there is no smoke without fire,” said one well-connected biz source who requested anonymity.
The political backdrop made it difficult to talk about sensitive issues like censorship.
China sees a political transition later this year when Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang replace President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.
Normally nothing happens in the run-up to leadership change, but this year saw a leadership purge.
Bo Xilai, former Communist Party chief of Chongqing, was ousted and his wife, Gu Kailai, is suspected of murdering a British business partner, Neil Heywood.
The biz would not be the biz if three separate execs did not mention that they were working on treatments for a film of the Bo story.
Added to that, activist lawyer Chen Guangcheng, whom actor Christian Bale tried to visit in December, escaped from his home April 22 after six years of house arrest and is now under the protection of the U.S. embassy in Beijing.
This will make bilateral issues more complicated and could impact the entertainment biz.
Nevertheless, Pang Wei, deputy director of Beijing’s Municipal Bureau of Radio, Film and Television, which organized the festival, said the goal was to make it the region’s main fest within five years.