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Imax China to Stop Signing Exclusive One-Film Deals

Life of Pi
"Life of Pi"

The chain plans to end the long-running convention of screening only one film at any given time on its 112 screens across the country.

HONG KONG – Chinese moviegoers will soon be provided with a choice at the country’s Imax cinemas, as the chain plans to end its practice of showing only one film at a time on all its screens in the country.

Imax China “will no longer sign so-called exclusive deals,” the company’s CEO, Chen Jiande, told The Beijing News. “We have to respect the choices made by the market and by audiences, as this is how it has been done around the world.”

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The decision arrives three months after the furor that erupted when Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, which was released in China on Nov. 22, was yanked from the large-format screens after only a weeklong run – a result of the chain’s previously signed deal with Huayi Brothers, which stipulated that Feng Xiaogang’s Back to 1942 would be shown on its screens when it opened Nov. 29.

Feng and Huayi were then roundly criticized in the Chinese blogosphere for acting like bullies and forcing the chain to pull Life of Pi from its screens, which led to the director accusing Imax China of whipping up a media frenzy.

“I don’t want to sound like weaving conspiracies here, but they have done promotion ... by saying Life of Pi will only be released [on Imax] for a week, and you’ve got to come see it quickly as after this week there will only be Back to 1942,” he said in a press conference for his film in Guangzhou in the run-up to the movie's release.

The standoff actually led to audiences rushing to see Lee’s film during its Imax run and also indirectly boosted its profile in the country. Life of Pi eventually took $91.8 million (571 million yuan) in its total earnings, while Back to 1942 foundered with only $59.8 million (372 million yuan).

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The number of Imax screens in China has increased exponentially in recent years, with the company now operating more than 110 screens in the country, compared to only 11 in 2010. As it stands, only the U.S. has more Imax screens than China. According to The Beijing News’ report, 127 screens are now being constructed around the country.

Imax also has been enhancing its collaborations with mainland Chinese filmmakers, with the chain having already released nine Chinese-language large-format productions in the country since 2010. The latest offerings were Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster and Stephen Chow Sing-chi’s Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons.

Earlier, the chain announced its decision to recruit two Chinese filmmakers to shoot with Imax cameras. Chen said the projects will probably be unveiled in June.