Jackie Chan, Zhang Ziyi Kick Off Inaugural Beijing Film Festival

Director John Woo is also on hand Saturday to help launch the six-day event.

BEIJING – Jackie Chan and Zhang Ziyi joined an array of Chinese government officials to welcome global movie industry guests to the opening night of the 1st Beijing International Film Festival on Saturday at the National Center for the Performing Arts.

On the red carpet inside the glass and steel structure known informally as "the Egg," director John Woo also helped wave in a select group of international film festival directors, trade delegates, heavy hitting producers and a handful of Hollywood studio representatives.

The six-day BJIFF will mix the screenings of 100 imported and 60 Chinese films, including such Hollywood blockbusters as The Social Network and acclaimed recent Chinese fare such as Buddha Mountain by director Li Yu.

The festival opens at a time when China's sales of movie tickets are strong – up 64% last year to $1.5 billion – but few Chinese films sell overseas. Organizers in the Beijing government now are keen to bring their city's cinema culture and movie business up to par with the global reputation the capital gained in sports in 2008.

Guest of honor, Liu Qi, president of the erstwhile Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee and a member of China's Politburo, declared the festival open and Co-Chairmen Beijing Mayor Guo Jinlong and Cai Fuchao, minister of the State Administration of Radio Film and Television, offered welcoming remarks that were super-titled for non-Chinese speaking guests.

Each politician emphasized to the nearly full house of about 5,000 guests seated just a few hundred yards west of the symbolic heart of China's one-party government in Tiananmen Square, that Beijing is the center of China's film industry.

To help them drive their point home, the night's third speaker, Marco Mueller, director of the Venice International Film Festival, addressed the crowd in both English and, to the crowd's delight, good Mandarin.

"The birth of BJIFF is a great event for the international film industry," Mueller said, noting that China's capital was "well on the path to becoming one of the world's great modern metropolises, yet it still possesses an irresistible charm."

The hasty organization of the BJIFF, first publicized internationally in February at the Berlin International Film Festival, had some observers wondering if it was designed to steal a march on the Shanghai International Film Festival, held each June, and refocus in the hands of the central government control of an industry deemed a key part of the Chinese Communist Party's plans to use all media to improve China's image around the world.

"As one of the historical cornerstones of China's film industry, Beijing possesses the financial and creative resources to become a film capital," Mueller said. Estimates show that about 200 million Chinese now can afford to go the movies on a regular basis.

In attendance and hoping to find good Chinese films to take home, were more than a dozen international film festival directors, including, among others, Cameron Bailey from Toronto, Lee Yong Kwan from Busan, John Cooper from Sundance, Wilfred Wong from Hong Kong, Tom Yoda from Tokyo and Maxine Williamson from the Asia Pacific Screen Awards.

"Beijing always provides a great networking opportunity," Chuck Boller, director of the Hawaii International Film Festival said. "I'm so pleased to see how many people I know who also are here."


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