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BEIJING – Darren Aronofsky’s Oscar-winning Black Swan nearly sank before it soared at the First Beijing International Film Festival on Monday, when a glitch with the digital “print” caused distributor 20th Century Fox to rush a 35mm version in on a flight from Taiwan and let Chinese censors cut it at the last moment.
“I’m so excited that the film’s been connecting with the people,” Aronofsky said, acknowledging the irony that even before the rare festival premiere here of a Hollywood film most of the Chinese officials and journalists who he met at a press conference earlier in the day must already have seen pirated copies of his work. “The Chinese really seem to get that it’s a film about the pursuit of perfection,” he said.
Was Aronofsky surprised at any Chinese reactions to, say, the steamy scene between stars Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis – a scene that neither the director nor Sunder Kimatrai, Fox International’s SVP Asia Pacific, could say for sure would stick in the BJIFF’s hastily edited screening?
“Nah, sex is not that radical here. The Internet means they’ve all seen it,” Aronofsky said on the sidelines of a Motion Picture Association of America event, where posters read: “MPAA: Promoting and Protecting Creative Communities.”
When asked about the censorship of the evening’s film, which has made $300 million worldwide, Kimatrai shrugged and said that Fox was doing “anything it takes” to make sure the screening went smoothly, reassuring a reporter that cutting films for different markets happens all around the world.
Black Swan was released in Hong Kong and Taiwan, where it made about $5 million overall and, in Hong Kong, a former British colony, it beat The King’s Speech at the box office, much to Aronofsky’s delight: “Hey, at last, one territory I won in,” he said.
His film, for which Natalie Portman won the Best Actress Oscar, has made $13 million in South Korea and the buzz surrounding the upcoming release in Japan is building.
Would he like to come make a film in China, where box office rose 64% to $1.5 billion last year and where Black Swan producer Mike Medavoy was born, in Shanghai, the son of exiles from Nazi Germany?
“China’s been very welcoming and it’s clear there are lots of resources and great facilities here,” Aronofsky said.
“Medavoy’s been talking lots about it, but the key will be to find the right China angle.”
At the BJIFF, which lasts through Apr. 28, Black Swan was set to screen alongside Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, also from Fox, at the cinema in the high-end Jin Bao shopping mall, which has a Lamborghini automobile dealership on the ground floor.
Earlier in the day, BJIFF organizers told The Hollywood Reporter the Black Swan screening had been cancelled and took it off the screening schedule.
An MPAA spokesman explained that the key code to the digital “print” hadn’t matched up with one at the local cinema, thereby preventing projection and insuring against piracy.
Kimatrai said the 35 mm print flown in from Taiwan was subtitled in the traditional Chinese characters used on that self-governing island. “It’s not ideal,” he said. China uses simplified characters in its writing and subtitles all films to accommodate the dialects spoken in this country of 1.3 billion people.
Asked how the inaugural film festival in China’s capital was going, Kimatrai, who comes to China from his base in Australia several times per year, said, “It will be an important part of my calendar in the years ahead.”
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