Fest directors talk shop at Shanghai

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SHANGHAI -- The directors of the world's top film festivals gathered together with a few new peers in China's commercial capital for the first time Sunday to offer varied perspectives to about 300 guests of the 10th Shanghai International Film Festival.

Geoffrey Gilmore, director of the Sundance Film Festival, cautioned mainland China's premiere cinema event against aspirations to be recognized as a class-"A" event.

"It's not about stars," said Gilmore. "Sundance Film Festival has no red carpet events."

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Gilmore advised film festivals the world over to shy away from art films and auteurs and concentrate instead on discovering new talent.

The summit was hosted by Eric Mika, senior vp and publishing director for The Hollywood Reporter.

Other summit participants included Ren Zhonglun, president of the Shanghai Film Group, a festival organizer, and director Wang Quan'an, whose "Tuya's Wedding" won the top honors at the Berlinale earlier this year.
 
Marco Mueller, director the world's oldest cinematic gathering, the Venice International Film Festival -- where Chinese director Jia Zhangke's "Still Life" won last year -- said he hoped always to strike a balance between commercial films and what he called "the few precious gems."
 
"We have not done our job if viewers walk out of the festival unchanged," Mueller said. Jia was also present at the summit.
 
Seizing her chance to promote one such would-be gem, Cao Jin, a recent graduate of the Communication University of China in Beijing, slipped a DVD to Mika who then held it up to the summit.
 
The guerilla marketing paid off and several festival directors snapped up copies of the short film, agreeing aloud that festivals identify new talent and give them a platform.
 
After a morning session, the assembled festival directors -- who also included Jerome Paillard of Cannes, Kim Dong-ho of Pusan, Sandra den Hammer of Rotterdam, and James Hindman of the American Film Institute -- broke for a closed luncheon hosted by Tian Jin, vice minister of the State Administration of Radio Film and Television.
 
The late schedule change by China's broadcast media regulators cut short the time set aside for questions from the audience.
 
Chuck Boller, executive director of the Hawaii International Film Festival, said that one topic of discussion over lunch was how to persuade Asian directors to premiere their works in Shanghai. The Shanghai festival lacks a single world or international premiere this year.
 
To change this, Boller said organizers must get distributors to attend. If China's most cosmopolitan city cannot by itself attract buyers, organizers may need to entice them to break the "chicken and egg" cycle.
 
But Mika said that the roughly 600 world class film festivals held each year represent something more than a chance at a sale.
 
"These festivals offer a reprieve to see what binds us together in humanity," Mika said. "This is a very noble excuse to bring us together to create a dialogue and inspire communication and tolerance."
 
One place that sentiment might be clearest is at the Dubai International Film Festival, whose chairman, Abdulhamid Juma, said that there has been much misunderstanding about the Arab world in the aftermath of 9/11. The Dubai event is the world's newest and one of its fastest growing festivals, he said.
 
Founded in 2004, the DIFF hopes to promote cultural understanding, by offering a platform for the 60 to 70 films produced in the Middle East each year.
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