LOCARNO – The European and Chinese film industries are looking to forge closer ties through a groundbreaking new initiative called Bridging the Dragon being launched by Italian multi-hyphenate Cristiano Bortone at the Locarno Film Festival.

The Berlin-based org, still in initial stages, is aiming to bridge what at present is a very distinct divide between these two film communities by forming a club of sorts with a select group of companies from both continents that can develop contacts, resources, project strategies, and lay the groundwork for a mutually beneficial rapport.

“Right now the major players on the Chinese market don’t care about Europe,” noted Bortone (pictured), who speaks Mandarin and has been cultivating Chinese ties. “They only care about the internal market, which is mainly comedies, and also Hollywood blockbusters.”

But Bortone believes things could change very fast because Chinese society is changing very fast, and with a growing middle class, demand for arthouse cinema will grow there.

“We have to seek all kinds of possible collaborations and be very creative, knowing that in Europe we have something more to offer than Hollywood does,” Bortone said.

Companies that have already boarded Bridging the Dragon include German powerhouse Senator Entertainment, Dutch family entertainment player Lemming Film, prominent Spanish animation company Dragoia Media, Bortone’s own shingle Orisa Produzioni, Norway’s Sweet films, and Shanghai-based China Blue and-Beijing based Road pictures.

Right now France, which has a co-production treaty in place with China, is leading the way.

Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp recently applied for co-production status for kung-fu fantasy/thriller “Warrior’s Gate,” on which it’s collaborating with Shanghai-based production and sales outfit Fundamental Films. Bortone’s next film “Coffee,” in which three stories set in Rome, London and Beijing intersect, is being set up as Italy’s first co-prod with China. And the U.K. also has a co-prod treaty in place which took ten years to hammer out. Germany does not. Co-prods talks between China and other European countries are in various stages.

Bertone made it clear that there are many other forms of collaboration that Bridging the Dragon would like to foster, including sales of remake rights, an area in which he has been active, and also attracting Chinese productions to come shoot in Europe.

Kirsten Niehuus, managing director of German regional funding board Medienboard Berlin-Brandenbourg, an early supporter of the initiative said that from her perspective “aside from funding films, the other thing we could do is try to provide context for companies, as a service company, to see what they might need politically as a service.”

Niehuus, who recently travelled to Beijing, said she thought China’s growing middle class could become a market for “what we call ‘arthouse light’,” a genre that falls somewhere between festival films and blockbusters. European producers could become a prominent source for that specific type of content.

Bortone pointed out the the paradox is that “right now the situation is unbalanced because we (Europe) finance Chinese arthous films that don’t get released in China. But they don’t finance any of our movies.”

A rare exception is “Cloud Atlas,” which got equity finance from companies in China, Hong Kong and Singapore, and scored a strong $27.7 million in China. More than its disappointing $27.1 million take at the North American box office.

China became the world’s number two film market two years ago, and in 2013 enjoyed a record-breaking $3.6 billion box office take. It is expected to become the number one market by 2018 and to double the North American box office by the middle of the next decade. According to WTO regulations, in 2017 China will have to lift its import quota limitations which now restrict film imports to 34, mostly American titles, per year.

Bridging the Dragon and its members will seek to thrash out some nitty-gritty issues including: identity and reliability of Chinese or European partners; project strategies; contacts; and translations. They will put out a regular newsletter with updates on the Chinese market, activity of its members in China, and producers’ profiles.The org., which will organise get-togethers at major film events, has plans for some high-profile confabs in Berlin.