CineAsia salutes global film business movers

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Bob Vallone
Exhibitor of the year

Cineasia's 2007 Exhibitor of the Year is truly a pioneer in the development of the multiplex cinema concept in Hong Kong.

Bob Vallone, director and general manager at Lark International Multimedia, began his career with United Artists Theaters in Redding, Calif., as an assistant manager at the Cascade Theatre. He rose through the ranks as a manager and division manager and by 1978 moved on to the UA home office, where he was assistant general manager and served as an assistant to Bob Naify.

In 1983 Vallone was selected by his company to develop a joint-venture partnership with Ira D. Kaye, an expatriate living in Hong Kong, to build that city's first multiplex. Vallone became Kaye's right-hand man, and together they embarked on building a modern circuit of Western-style cinemas in Hong Kong. The first site opened in 1985 in the New Tower Plaza shopping center, and the success of the six-screen UA Shatin dramatically changed the Hong Kong exhibition landscape.

Today, United Artists operates eight cinemas in Hong Kong with 38 screens and has two new cinemas scheduled to open this year. UA recently opened its first Imax cinema in the MegaBox shopping center in Hong Kong. With only 260 seats, it's the smallest Imax location in Asia, yet it still became the No. 1 Imax cinema in Asia virtually overnight. UA accounts for 20% of the Hong Kong boxoffice and has now entered China, where they have four locations with 21 screens, plus an Imax theater operating under the Studio City Cinemas brand name.

As the current general manager of UA Cinema, and director and general manager of Lark International Multimedia, Vallone's responsibilities include oversight and development of cinemas in Hong Kong and China, film distribution, and development of a new restaurant group. Lark also has interests in apparel and the dairy business.

With summer boxoffice in Hong Kong up this year, the best in 10 years, Vallone is bullish on the industry. "Hollywood movies are holding up the market, and if the regional and local markets rebound, it's going to be a strong market once again," he declares.

Vallone believes that boxoffice in Hong Kong would jump 40% if Hong Kong went digital today. UA has installed two digital units to date, and Vallone feels the impact of digital will be immense. "The entire industry will leapfrog, and with digital we can put all our movies into different languages with the push of a button -- and that will be great for the industry," he emphasizes.

"Digital will also make alternative content become a reality, and this will change how people look at movie theatres," Vallone predicts. In five years, he sees China generating a $6 billion business. "With 1.4 billion people, it's destined to be huge when the industry opens up."

-- Profile by Robert Sunshine


Fortissimo Films
Award of excellence

The dictionary defines "fortissimo" as "very loud," and Fortissimo Films has certainly been making itself heard in the Asian cinema world. Founded in 1991 by Wouter Barendrecht, the international production and distribution company has helped raise the global profile of acclaimed Asian filmmakers like Wong Kar Wai, Hou Hsaio-hsien, Tsai Ming-liang, the Pang brothers and Pen-ek Ratanruang. CineAsia will be recognizing the efforts of Barendrecht and his partner Michael Werner with a special Award of Excellence at the closing-night ceremony on Dec. 6.

With offices in Amsterdam, Hong Kong, London, New York, Paris and Sydney, and agents in Beijing, Europe, Tokyo, the Middle East and the U.S., Fortissimo is truly a globe-spanning operation. But the company's relationship with Asia is particularly strong, so much so that early in its existence, Barendrecht relocated from Amsterdam to Hong Kong. Among Fortissimo's best-known Asian titles are Wong Kar Wai's "Chungking Express," "In the Mood for Love" and "2046"; Tian Zhuangzhuang's "Springtime in a Small Town"; Tsai Ming-liang's "I Don't Want to Sleep Alone"; and Pen-ek Ratanruang's "Last Life in the Universe." The company was also a co-producer on such English-language indie successes as Gregg Araki's "Mysterious Skin" and John Cameron Mitchell's "Shortbus," among others.

Barendrecht founded Fortissimo after working as a programmer for the Rotterdam Film Festival and press officer for the Berlin Film Festival's International Forum of New Cinema. He has served on many international film festival juries and was director of the first Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum.

Co-chairman Werner joined Fortissimo in 1995 as a consultant after serving as an international sales consultant to companies like Fox International and PolyGram Films. He became a partner in Fortissimo in 2000.

"We are a truly international company, with employees of all kinds of different nationalities and backgrounds," Barendrecht declares.

"Time differences are our biggest challenge -- and getting us all in one room one day!"

Fortissimo has prospered as the face of Asian cinema has evolved in recent years. "The biggest change has been the emergence of new Asian cinemas like Korean, Thai, Singaporean, etc.," Barendrecht notes. "These were totally unnoticed before in the region, let alone outside of Asia. Outside of Asia, the perception of Asian cinema changed from being 'Oriental cinema' to Asian cinema, as audiences worldwide became much more sophisticated in their knowledge. They can now distinguish between Japanese or Korean or Chinese films and stars, which they couldn't do in the past."

While Fortissimo has been a formidable champion of Asian and independent cinema, Barendrecht cautions that success does not come easy. "The marketplace is overcrowded in general for any kind of film," he declares. "Unfortunately, our industry is making far too many films right now -- partly because of the new money from hedge funds, partly because of soft money being pumped into it, and partly because of production costs going down because of new technologies. We really have to address this problem, since most cities in the world are releasing some 15 to 20 films a week, of which the lion's share are going to die at the boxoffice."

-- Profile by Kevin Lally


Raymond Chow
Visionary Award

Perhaps the most significant producer in the history of the Hong Kong film industry, Raymond Chow will be the recipient of a special Visionary Award at CineAsia in Macau.

Born in Hong Kong in 1929, Chow earned a B.A. in journalism from Shanghai's St. John's University and worked as a reporter at the English-language Hong Kong Standard before joining the Voice of America's Hong Kong office in 1951. He entered the movie industry in 1959 as an employee of the Shaw Brothers studio, quickly rising to head of production. In 1970, he left the increasingly frugal Shaw studio to form his own production company, Golden Harvest.

Golden Harvest released eight films in its debut year, and rapidly bolstered its resources by acquiring the Hammer Hill production facility.

A major breakthrough came in 1971, when Golden Harvest released the kung-fu hit "The Big Boss" (U.S. title: "Fists of Fury") and introduced audiences to the charismatic Bruce Lee. Subsequent Lee hits "The Chinese Connection" and "Return of the Dragon" (both 1972) helped fuel Golden Harvest's rise to the top of the Hong Kong boxoffice for two decades.

In 1990, Chow and Golden Harvest scored one of their biggest box-office triumphs with the blockbuster "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," the beginning of a successful relationship with New Line Cinema that included the release of several Jackie Chan films.

Golden Harvest has also been an active force in movie exhibition, with more than 300 screens (some in partnerships) in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore. In recent years, the company has halted production to focus on exhibition, but a November 2007 purchase of a 25% stake in Golden Harvest by Beijing talent agency and producer Chengtian Entertainment signals the venerable name's return to film production. Chow recently stepped down as chairman of Golden Harvest, but will continue to be a consultant.

Chow was honored in 1987 by Queen Elizabeth II with the Order of the British Empire, in 1996 by the Emperor of Japan with the Order of the Sacred Treasure, and in 1998 by the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region with the Gold Bauhinia Star. He was also named International Showman of the Year by the National Association of Theatre Owners in 1980 and received the CineAsia lifetime achievement award in 1996.

-- Profile by Kevin Lally


Erlina Suharjono
Distributor of the Year

For her work bringing American-made films to Asia's burgeoning moviegoing audiences, Erlina Suharjono will receive the Distributor of the Year Award at CineAsia this year.

In addition to being Warner Bros. Pictures International's senior vp Asia distribution, Hong Kong-based Suharjono recently assumed duties as chief representative of Warner New Asia, supervising the distribution of American-made films in China -- a tough market to crack due to strict censorship and a 20-film limit on the number of imports that can take home a share of boxoffice receipts.

With 17 years of experience in filmed entertainment, Suharjono has worked in acquisition, distribution, exhibition and production of local films as well as in film-to-video restoration.

Suharjono first joined Warner Bros. in 1993 as an assistant marketing manager, a position from which she was promoted a year later to Asia distribution manager, which she held for three years.

She then joined the Cathay Organization, where she was vp and general manager of the entertainment division in Singapore. At Cathay, she acquired, marketed and distributed films for Singapore and Malaysia as well as developed multiplexes around Asia.

Suharjono rejoined Warner Bros. in 2000 as Asia regional marketing director and was again promoted about a year later to Asia vp and Hong Kong general manager for Warner Bros. Pictures International.

In her current role, Suharjono supervises distribution and marketing through the Warner Bros. network of affiliate offices and licensees in China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand; and also oversees licensing of the Warner Bros. theatrical rights to Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

Suharjono reports to Veronika Kwan-Rubinek and Sue Kroll, the presidents of distribution and marketing, respectively. Her additional responsibilities include formulating release strategies for all Asian territories and supervising regional marketing campaigns, including media, research, publicity and promotional activities. She acquires local Asian products and assesses new markets and the realignment of Warner Bros. businesses in Asia.

"In the world of distribution, you couldn't ask for a more dedicated and respected professional who has done so much for their company in bringing American films into the hearts and minds of so many moviegoers throughout the Asia-Pacific region," says Mitch Neuhauser, a CineAsia organizer.

-- Profile by Jonathan Landreth
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