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Hollywood Power Players Appear at Beijing Fest

China's state regulators also out in force

BEIJING — Hollywood bizzers were out in force at the 3rd Beijing Film Festival this weekend, with everyone discussing how to foster greater innovation in China while making the world’s second biggest market more accessible to overseas interests.

Lucasfilm topper Kathleen Kennedy gave a keynote address offering insights into the two deals she signed in China’s ancient capital.

She elaborated on Disney’s plans to work with the Chinese Ministry of Culture’s animation wing and webco Tencent to develop a research group to help boost the local toon industry. “The goal … is to deliver original content,” she said, with a focus on developing characters that will work in Asian markets.

Last week Industrial Light & Magic signed an expanded deal with local f/x company Base FX for cutting-edge effects for three upcoming installments of “Star Wars.”

She also revealed that Disney had pledged $1 million to the relief fund for Saturday’s devastating Sichuan earthquake.

Keanu Reeves unspooled a trailer for his directorial debut, “Man of Tai Chi.” With production credits including China Film Group, Wanda Group, Village Roadshow Pictures and Universal, the pic has true Hollywood-China credentials.

Reeves also featured at the Sino-Foreign film co-production forum, alongside a host of luminaries, a roll-call of which gives a flavor of how the fest works. It has been flexing its international muscle, but on the Chinese side there is a strong state and regulatory element.

At the forum was French helmer Luc Besson, Fox Intl. co-prexy Paul Hanneman, Hong Kong helmer Peter Chan and Zhong Lifang from Galloping Horse.

There was a signing ceremony for Sino-French epic “Wolf Totem,” which will be helmed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, who appears to have been rehabilitated after angering Beijing for making the Dalai Lama-friendly Brad Pitt-starrer, “Seven Years in Tibet.”

Also in attendance was Zhang Hongsen, director-general of the Film Bureau and of the powerful new media regulator, the General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of China plus deputy minister of the latter org, Zhang Pimin.

Vice Mayor of Beijing, Lu Wei, who is a senior figure in the Communist Party in Beijing and director of the city’s publicity committee was also there, as was Han Sanping, head of the China Film Group.

The growing China-Hollywood relationship is probably the most exciting in the world of cinema right now, and co-productions are a great way to cement links, but like any marriage, it needs tending if it is to thrive.

That was the message from a panel at the city’s trendy Capital M eatery, featuring Orb Media topper Peter Shiao, Max Michael of United Talent Agency and Shan Dongbing of Le Vision Pictures (chaired by Variety’s Clifford Coonan).

“There is no greater place to be in the film world today than here, at the heart of the China-Hollywood relationship,” said Shiao, who has been a longtime proponent of closer links.

He said the relationship was happening not at some distant point in the future, but right now.

Asked what could be done to improve co-operation, Max Michael put it succinctly: “Where there is money, there is co-operation.”

Shiao is putting his money where his mouth is. His L.A. and China-based Orb Media Group signed a deal with Chinese production-distribution company Le Vision Pictures to produce a transmedia franchise, which will see a range of cross-platform projects.

The first project to be produced, financed, marketed and distributed through the new joint venture will be the $40 million-budget ”The Legend of 18,” a new fantasy-action franchise slated for a late 2013 launch.

“As the China-Hollywood partnership keeps growing, now is a great time to bring something truly transformational like transmedia storytelling into the mix,” he said.

“Legend of 18” will play out over movie, TV and wireless screens worldwide, he said, adding that specifics will be revealed later this year.

Le Vision Pictures CEO Zhang Zhao said: “The rapid rise of China’s entertainment industry means not only the addition of a new, highly dynamic market to the global stage but also the opportunity to innovate on a historic scale.”

Other tie-ins between the U.S. and China included the formation of a joint program between the USC School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles and the Beijing Film Academy.

The China-U.S. Intl. Masters Classes and Industry Summits in Cinematic Arts, or the Master Project, has been initiated by Naga Film, a Beijing-based media company headed by Mike Hsu.

A joint agreement is due to be signed at Naga’s HQ in Beijing on Monday and will include presentations by helmer John Woo, filmmaker Peter Pau, China Film’s Han and director of 20th Century Fox Intl. Joseph Liao. Elizabeth Daley, dean of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, was in town to officiate.

The first Master Class Summit will begin in June and will engage industry masters and professionals of both countries to consult and converse.

The eight-day fest wraps on Tuesday.

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