For the first time ever, companies from mainland China are joining the Independent Film & Television Alliance. IFTA is the non-government organization that runs the American Film Market and sets codes of conduct between film sellers and buyers.
Five Chinese firms CMC Pictures, Fantawild, Yi Animation, Holly Skywalk Film Investment, and newly formed Saga Films have joined in recent months. With Huayi Bros., that lifts the number of Chinese member firms to six.
The move to join is a departure from past practice, where mainland Chinese movies have largely been sold through Hong Kong-based sales agencies. In other instances, some of the largest titles have been cherry-picked by U.S.-based sellers.
This year, however, the highest grossing Chinese-made movie of all time “Wolf Warriors II,” is being sold by China’s CMC Pictures. The company is the rights sales arm of Li Ruigang’s investment group China Media Capital. Underlining its presence at AFM, CMC Pictures is sponsor of the bags that are given free of charge to AFM participants. Although little known at film markets, Fantawild is a huge company that operates more than 30 theme parks in China and controls over 100,000 hours of animated content.
Making the commitment to join IFTA suggests that these companies see film exports as a long-term strategy, and that they will become a regular presence at film markets, such as Cannes, Berlin’s European Film Market and Hong Kong’s FilMart. Until now, few mainland Chinese companies have attended consistently, with many dipping in and out according to the seasonal strength of their slates, or whether their titles have been selected to play at the accompanying film festival.
Significantly too, it means that Chinese companies can have a voice in setting the terms of trade in the film sales business. Among its activities, IFTA draws up model contracts and lobbies on behalf of the independent sector with national governments and supranational bodies including the European Union and the World Trade Organization.
IFTA is one of the industry bodies advising the U.S. Trade Representative as it negotiates a new memorandum of understanding with China. The current deal between China and the U.S. was struck in 2012, when China was a much smaller force in the global film industry. Spanning matters including import quotas, distribution structures, and revenue share, the current deal came up for renegotiation in February this year. Talks are ongoing.
This year there are 22 mainland Chinese firms at AFM as exhibitors, including Alibaba Pictures, iQIYI Pictures, Oriental Pearl and Wanda Media. Nine have taken office space, while the rest are operating from a new umbrella stand.