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The Beijing International Film Festival

Posted in China Film Industry

A palpable sense of excitement is starting to build here in Beijing as the Third Beijing International Film Festival approaches. Taking place April 16 – 23, The Beijing International Film Festival (BIFF) is emerging as a natural focal point for Hollywood’s preoccupation with the Chinese film business and has already become a regular date on the international festival circuit. This is hardly surprising, given Chinese box office growth of 36% in 2011 — growth that allowed China to overtake Japan and become the second-biggest film market. Compare that to a flat performance at best in the US during the same period and you get some idea of what is driving Hollywood’s interest, if not its anxiety.

Tickets for the Sino-Foreign Film Co-Production Forum on April 21 will be red hot and places at the MPA’s Film Workshops on April 21 and 22 are already in great demand.

Though this is always a very busy period for us as clients and friends fly into Beijing from all over the world, I will try to provide some updates and observations as the Festival progresses.

The following are already hot topics:

  • Why did the Chinese censors pull Tarantino’s Django Unchained on its opening day in China?
  • Does the huge success of purely Chinese films such as Lost In Thailand and Journey to the West presage a new era in which Hollywood films are marginalized in China? (Hollywood certainly hopes not).
  • What will the recently-announced merger of SARFT and GAPP mean for foreign producers and distributors? What will the new “super-agency” even be called?
  • When pictures like Iron Man 3  reportedly opt out of official co-production status (and the larger share of box office that goes with it) does this mean that co-productions are just too hard?
  • Will the new national administration relax the de facto prohibition on co-production joint ventures (i.e. permanent legal entities with physical assets and ongoing operations in China) as opposed to the restrictions on co-productions (i.e. discrete pictures made in cooperation with a Chinese partner)?

If I find anyone with the answers I’ll be sure to let you know. What do you think?

  • http://twitter.com/JoyceLauIHT Joyce Lau

    I can’t imagine that Hollywood is threatened. First of all, that’s kind of a Chinese way of thinking — like bashing Western companies in hopes that Chinese companies will benefit. Hollywood has been king of the roost despite excellent, critically acclaimed film scenes in places like France, Britain and India. You didn’t see Hollywood quake when “The Artist” did well at the Oscars. There is plenty of room in the booming Chinese market. And I think they’re above that sort of petty jealousy.

    “Lost in Thailand” and “Journey to the West” did very well locally, but they aren’t exactly international blockbusters. And why shouldn’t a country make its own successful films? I’m sure everyone foresaw that China would eventually be making its own great films — the way France does, where audiences happily consume both domestic and U.S. movies.

    The two films are different cases. “Lost in Thailand” is a truly mainland Chinese film. “Journey to the West” is by two Hong Kong directors, including Stephen Chow, who is already well-known to Hollywood because of films like “Kung Fu Hustle”. HK has a very different sort of relationship to the international film world — we’ve long had recognized names like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. And, at least according to China’s censors, our films are generally classified as “foreign”, not “domestic.”

    “Journey to the West” is an example of how films are crossing the HK border — a complex issue that involves whether directors here are willing to tailor their works to the censors up North in order to get market access. But that’s a whole other blog post.

    • TheAngryInternet

      Journey to the West was a mainland/Hong Kong co-production (as are virtually all large-scale HK productions these days–CZ12 is another recent example) and was treated as a domestic film by the mainland authorities. Hong Kong films without co-production status are handled differently, but under CEPA they receive special treatment that puts them much closer to mainland films than to imports (for example, there is no quota on films from Hong Kong, and the HK producers can make their own mainland distribution arrangements without working through China Film Group).

  • http://twitter.com/JoyceLauIHT Joyce Lau

    A random note: It’s pretty funny when Chinese censors don’t just take things out, as they usually do, but add things in. They insisted that the Chinese actress Fan Bingbing be inserted into Iron Man. Obviously, the directors thought her role was superfluous, since it’s not good / interest / relevant enough to be included anywhere else. But mainland viewers will have to sit to a totally extra scene.
    Hmm. Someone must have a special friend on the censorship board.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2309204/China-gets-OWN-VERSION-Iron-Man-3-Disney-allows-countrys-film-censors-set.html

    • TheAngryInternet

      To say that the censors “insisted” on the additional footage is a rather misleading way to put it. The additional footage was shot to qualify the film for some form of co-production status, though the filmmakers didn’t go far enough to receive full status. (Among other things, full co-production status requires 1/3 Chinese financing, a 1/3 Chinese cast, and preapproval of the script; Disney/Marvel didn’t do any of these things.)

      But the long and short of it is that Iron Man 3 would’ve received a Chinese release with or without any Chinese presence. Marvel has never had any problem securing Chinese releases for their films before, and it’s extremely implausible the situation would change just a year after The Avengers made $90m (about 75% of which stayed in China). But going for some sort of quasi-co-production status allowed Disney to avoid certain restrictions normally applied to imports, notably in the advertising/marketing arena.

      The Mail’s writer (as I would expect from that publication) appears only dimly aware of these issues–certainly his knowledge of the Chinese film sector is poor, judging from his claim that China allows “only 20 foreign films per year” (the revenue-sharing quota was expanded to 34 films in early 2012, and several dozen more imports are allowed under the buyout/flat-fee system), or that “scenes” were removed from the mainland release of Skyfall (it was a couple of shots). The writer also appears unaware of the direct precedent for the Iron Man 3 situation: Looper, another DMG co-production that was released in China with additional footage designed to qualify it for special status. In that case, this status was instrumental in landing the film a quota slot and a prime release date, since this sort of independently-produced film typically gets a buyout release during a “down” period at the boxoffice. For the major Hollywood studios, it’s about whether the film makes $70m in China or $100m, not whether it gets released at all.

  • http://twitter.com/MichaelYan23 Michael Yan

    Hollywood doesn’t feel threatened per se, but the studios are worried about the North American theatrical business’ declining relevance. They see China as a possible answer to the declined DVD market. 10 screens built a day isn’t bad at all, so they are trying to do everything they can to get more open access to this market.