Landmark Movie Co-Production Treaty Between Britain and China

British Prime Minister David Cameron
British Prime Minister David Cameron
 Getty Images

A new film co-production treaty between Britain and China, announced during British Prime Minister David Cameron's trip to China, will give U.K. filmmakers improved access to the world's second-biggest cinema market.

China's box office revenues breached the $3 billion threshold late last month, hitting $3.17 billion (19.3 billion yuan) as of Nov. 25. Central to this is the number of new theaters -- more than 4,500 screens have been constructed in 2013, with the total number of screens across the country surpassing 17,600.

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"This is a significant step forward for the British film industry, opening the door to a market that is building seven cinema screens a day," Cameron said, according to Press Association.

The announcement comes as culture ministers from both countries met to discuss closer collaboration.

"People have started calling it Chollywood, but really it's Chinewood -- British films linking up with Chinese partners to access the second-highest box office audience in the world," he said.

Alas, gaining access to that market is difficult for overseas film companies.

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China currently has a quota system limiting overseas movies to 34 foreign films a year on a revenue-sharing basis. The treaty, brokered by the British Film Institute and flagged in advance of Cameron's visit, will allow Sino-British co-productions to sidestep the quota system.

The treaty, signing of which is imminent, will also allow qualifying co-productions to access sources of finance from the two national governments, such as the U.K.'s Film Tax Relief and the BFI Film Fund.

Ivan Dunleavy, chief executive of Pinewood, said the agreement was a significant step forward.

"It will provide access for British and Chinese filmmakers to produce films for the global audience," Dunleavy told PA.

The treaty has taken nearly a decade to work out, said BFI chief executive Amanda Nevill.

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"China is a really important and dynamic growth opportunity for film. The speed of growth in terms of cinema rollout alone is quite staggering and offers huge opportunities to those working in film in China and the U.K.," she said.

"We want to put real energy behind this landmark treaty and will be working in close partnership with the Chinese film authorities and all major creative players to put on the biggest-ever exchange program celebrating Chinese and U.K. film next year," said Nevill.

This is Cameron's first trip to China in two years, making up for an earlier one scrapped by Beijing in retaliation for his meeting with the Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing considers a dangerous separatist.

Earlier in the visit, Downing Street protested to the Chinese authorities about a "completely inappropriate" decision to bar Robert Hutton, a British journalist with Bloomberg, from a press conference in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing with Cameron and his Chinese counterpart, Premier Li Keqiang. The Chinese have blocked Bloomberg's website in the country over an article it wrote about President Xi Jinping's family.

Then the state-run Global Times newspaper marked Cameron's visit by lampooning Britain as a small country easily replaceable in China's diplomatic firmament.

"The U.K. is no longer any so-called 'big country' ... it is an old European country suitable for travel and study abroad," the newspaper wrote.

The trip to China features the U.K.'s biggest delegation ever, with six government ministers and representatives from business, universities and the health-care sector participating in the three-day visit, with a strong focus on trade.

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