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Deals Worth $429 Million Signed at Inaugural Beijing Film Festival Market

Messy start still proves lucrative for attendees of first-time event.

BEIJING – Organizers of the film market at the 1st Beijing International Film Festival said deals valued at nearly 2.8 billion yuan ($429 million) were completed in the three days of the state-run event ended Wednesday after what some guests called a messy start.

The Beijing Film Market, which began Monday, attracted 334 film companies and 860 registered industry professionals from around the world, organizers said.

Foot traffic was steady in and around the film festival, which ends Thursday, and at the concurrent market events, spread across several participating hotels. Most guests were Chinese attending industry forums featuring visitors from more mature movie markets.

The number of Hollywood visitors to China has risen steadily in recent years and peaked in recent months since the domestic box office gross ticket sales rose 64% in 2010 to hit $1.5 billion, making it the fastest growing movie market in the world.

Festival and market guests included first-time China visitor and Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky, who called the festival “exciting,” and representatives of Twentieth Century Fox, the German Film Institute, the Tokyo International Film Festival and CJ Entertainment of South Korea.

The total transaction value of deals signed over three days in between new project presentations and screenings of films such as Black Swan, True Grit and Buddha Mountain, set a record for domestic film festivals and exhibitions, organizers said.

The largest deal signed at the market was to develop the Beijing Huairou Underwater Filming Studio, a two-stage $60 million project in a Beijing suburb starting this year, Beijing Film Market Director Wang Yu told The Hollywood Reporter.

The deal was signed between Hong Kong Vision Ltd and Beijing Yijia Weiye Investment Management Ltd. Huairou is a county about 16 miles from the Beijing International Airport where the state-run China Film Group has its largest film studio facility.

“In the first stage, the two parties will jointly invest about $30 million to make up for the infrastructure disadvantage in Chinese film industry, while in the second stage, in 2012, there will be an investment also around $30 million for the development of peripheral business,” Wang said.

Wang, who runs an independent film company in Beijing called Ray Production, currently involved in a co-production about Sun Yat-sen with Kadokawa of Japan, said that the goal of the event “is to attract international investment commissions to develop the Chinese market together.”

“We aim to improve our own cinematic creativity and production ability through these kinds of international and dynamic cooperations,” Wang said.

Veteran overseas visitors to China recognized the event’s pervasive undercurrent of haphazard organization as typical, but some local professionals found it infuriating and embarrassing.

“A MESS. A Joke! A disgrace!” wrote one Beijing-based Chinese film company market participant in an email to The Hollywood Reporter

The market book – typically a crucial guide to finding the whereabouts of potential business partners at a film market – only arrived on the market floor at the Beijing International Hotel at the end of the second day of the market.

Wang acknowledged a rocky start, saying that because it was the first time the market had some trouble with exhibitor invitations and registration.

“We hope that we can improve by referring to other well-established film markets and make it better next year,” he said.

Despite frequently shifting forum times and a scant availability of accurate information in English, most foreign guests, and especially VIPs – the cost of whose visits to China were covered by the festival -- were diplomatic in assessing the event, marveling even at the potential they felt they saw.

Australian John Polson, founder of short film festival TropFest, which will expand to Abu Dhabi in November, said he’d come to China for the first time to find a way to launch his festival here. 

“It’s all very exciting here and since we’re known for films made on mobile phones, this is our natural market.”

China not only has the world’s greatest number of mobile phone users but also hosts two other major movie events -- the Hong Kong International Film Festival, which completed its 35th edition in March, and the Shanghai International Film Festival, which is set to stage its 14th edition in June.

In keeping with recent messages from high within China’s one-party government about the need to use all media to promote China’s image overseas, festival and market organizers said in a statement that the deals done over the three-day event were for projects “typical of Chinese style and themes, which, in a sense, will present as the positive elements on enhancing the understanding of Chinese culture.”

The BJIFF and the Beijing Film Market were hosted and organized by the country’s lead media regulator, the State Administration of Radio Film and Television, and by Gehua, the commercial cultural arm of the Beijing City government.

In a telling moment during a forum on international film finance on Tuesday, dozens of Chinese film professionals applauded enthusiastically when the head of the Motion Picture Association of America’s Asia operations clarified the Hollywood studio lobby’s role as a non-governmental agency.

The MPAA is not like SARFT’s Film Bureau, Mike Ellis hinted, saying: “The MPAA was formed in 1922 to stop the government from getting involved in the movie business.” Loud applause erupted from roughly a third of the audience of about 400 mostly Chinese people.

Market director Wang said the event’s greatest success was revealing to the world the importance of the Chinese film market and held out hope for the 2012 sophomore event.

“We will learn from our fellow co-workers from all over the world with a modest heart to achieve more international cooperation in this gradually opening film market in China,” Wang said.