Private fest will bridge film gap

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In the latest in a series of Sino-American cinematic bridge-building exercises, a new, private film festival will launch at the Directors Guild of America on Thursday.

Organized by California radio station owner James Su and partner Steven Shen, a film producer and former writer for China Central Television, the inaugural 33-film festival will run at Laemmle Theaters, Santa Monica College and select theaters in San Francisco through Nov. 25.

Chinese actor-director Jiang Wen is flying in from Beijing to screen his latest film, "The Sun Also Rises," at the DGA, alongside 2007 Oscar-winning documentary "The Blood of Yingzhou District," a film about China's AIDS crisis by Hong Kong director Ruby Yang.

The festival's veteran Hollywood advisor is producer Andre Morgan and its honorary chairman is Michael Ryan, vice-chairman of the International Film and Television Alliance, organizer of the American Film Market.

The festival program includes nine films from the state-controlled China Film Group and two from its lead competitor in China, the Shanghai Film Group.

Organizers Shen and Su said they hope bringing Chinese and American filmmakers together in private meetings this year -- rather than in the gala banquet fashion favored by the largely official delegation that attended AFM in 2006 -- "would foment deals by the end of the eight-day market.

"We're trying to keep ourselves independent, working without the influence of groups to whom we don't want to have to answer," said Shen, whose Shenhart Entertainment has offices in Los Angeles and Beijing to foster Sino-American co-productions in film and television.

Su took a group of filmmakers visiting from China to private meetings with international division executives at 20th Century Fox on Wednesday, and they were due to visit with Disney and Sony Pictures on Thursday.

At Friday's ancillary event at Santa Monica College, director Zhou Sun will give a seminar on Chinese filmmaking with a discussion of his "Silence," starring Gong Li, China's submission to the Oscars in 2000.

Zhou, who first visited Hollywood in 1993, said he hopes the new film festival and its attendant meetings will provide him the opportunity to make his next film "about a mother-son-relationship with incestuous overtones.

"This would be a little bit complicated to make in China. I am hoping to find a Hollywood partner here," Zhou said.

And for those Hollywood companies hoping to learn about shooting films outside the CFG-dominated system in China, the festival brought Yu Rongguang, an actor ("Shanghai Noon"), director, producer and de facto spokesman for the film industry in southwest China's Yunnan Province.

Yu and Shen are working with British writer-director Keith Cavele and Ben Kingsley on "Knights of Possingworth Park," which is set to start shooting as a co-production in Yunnan in March with a budget of about $11 million.

Su and Shen pulled the festival together as a labor of love, with money from their own pockets and nominal help from such sponsors as EastWest Bank, the New York-listed Chinese American bank, T-Mobile and Famers Insurance.

"Lots of businesses want to get a foot in the door in China and one way they are testing the waters is through media an entertainment with events like ours," said Su, CEO of EDI Media Inc., owner of Southern California ABC News affiliate 570 AM, along with three other English-, Chinese- and Spanish-language radio stations in California.
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