China opens doors to 'Tibet' pic

Mark Holdom first foreign producer to get Beijing's green light

HONG KONG--Chinese director Dai Wei ("Ganglamedo") will begin shooting "Once Upon a Time in Tibet" outside Lhasa in late April with Beijing production company Stellar Megamedia ("Nanking! Nanking!), Rome-based producer Mark Holdom told the Hollywood Reporter.
 
Holdom said Hong Kong actress Charlie Young and he met with investor Yang Yuen of Beijing-based Forward Capital met at FILMART on Monday and that the "Bangkok Dangerous" star is "strongly considering" starring opposite a Western male lead.
 
As a New Zealander, Holdom thinks he could be the first Western producer to gain permission to shoot a feature film in the southwestern Himalayan reaches of China, where media are barred or tightly controlled by Beijing due to ethnic tensions that a year ago erupted into anti-Chinese riots.
 
(On Monday, Reporters Without Borders condemned the arrest without charges of 20-year-old Tibetan writer Kunga Tseyang who last year helped make the documentary "Leaving Fear Behind," which interviews 100 Tibetans about Chinese oppression).

 
"We're starting shooting on April 27," said Holdom, confident he could also raise funding from Schmidt & Katze in Germany and Channel Four in the U.K. "I'm going to show up at a press conference in Beijing on Apr. 20 with equipment and cash in hand."
 
Holdom, who boasts a varied background--including stints working for U.S. music world icons Frank Zappa and Tommy Mottola--said the film about "romantic miscommunication" would employ Tibetan cast and crew.  "It's a great opportunity to make an internationally crafted film in a stunning natural setting," he said.
 
Director Dai's last film, "Ganglamedo"--made in 2008 by the state-run China Film Group--is about a Tibetan folk song that haunts and connects a Tibetan bride to a Chinese singer who, 60 years after the bride's disappearance, grows passionate about the same song.
 
This year, which marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, Beijing is ratcheting up broadcast messages of ethnic harmony in programs from the Spring Festival gala in February to the annual legislative meeting a few weeks ago.
 
Zarshi Dhawa, who also wrote "Ganglamedo", wrote "Once Upon a Time in Tibet". Holdom dropped the names of a few big Western actors he said he had approached about the bilingual project, including Sam Reilly, Jude Law, Vincent Gallo.
 
In 1997, Brad Pitt starred in director Jean-Jacques Annaud's "Seven Years in Tibet." That film and Martin Scorsese's "Kundun" brought Tibet and the plight of its exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama into focus in Hollywood.  Neither film was ever allowed to screen in China.
 
"Once Upon a Time in Tibet" will be investor Wang's first involvement in films.  He said that he and Stellar Megamedia executive Yue Xiaomei were discussing building an ongoing production relationship.
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