The American Film Market is this year poised to see record attendance from Chinese executives. Based on early registration numbers, Chinese delegates could overtake those from the U.K. to become the second largest national group behind only the domestic U.S. attendees.The AFM will this year be held Nov. 1-8 in Santa Monica, California.
Chinese participation has risen from just 13 executives in 2005, to over 250 at last year’s edition. The Chinese growth has been consistent since 2009.
The Chinese AFM attendees are a highly diverse bunch. They include buyers, some sellers and large numbers of entrepreneurs. “All are looking to expand. Most are planning to be completely vertically integrated,” Jonathan Wolf, AFM managing director, told Variety.
“The growth (at the AFM) has come without any particular outreach to the Chinese industry, and without our having a representative in the country,” said Wolf. “Looking for past parallels to this trend, and there is simply aren’t any. The nearest could be South Korea, but Korean participation was always out of whack with its GDP growth.”
The Chinese presence at the market will also be more visible and institutionalized. For the first time, there will be a China Pavilion, or umbrella stand that will be home to perhaps a dozen companies. Some may be production service companies. Organizers are also mulling a China-themed evening event on the third day of the market. And conversations with key executives are likely to replace the China component of the AFM’s conference series.
The delegate expansion comes at a time when the relationship between Hollywood and the Chinese film industry has reached a turning point. Chinese companies are no longer able to pour vast sums of money into U.S. acquisitions. And the Chinese box office is completing a miserable 12 month run in which revenue and admissions growth has failed to keep pace with cinema openings.
“There is a general acceptance in the West that China is a tricky (film sales) market. Due to papers and permits. For the the moment nothing there has changed. It is business as usual,” said Wolf.
“One of the big questions we are asking ourselves is does China evolve like India, which has a largely domestic-facing film industry, or like Hong Kong, prior to the opening up of China, when it was an export-driven industry?,” said Wolf. To date it has been more like India, with Hong Kong-based sales agents handling a significant portion of Chinese film exports.