Beijing Screenings Event Moves from October to April

The organizer says the Chinese market event could be crippled by short preparation time.

After 14 years of striving to grow buyer attendance at the Beijing Screenings each October, the China Film Group’s overseas sales arm is moving its annual market event to April to coincide with the inaugural Beijing International Film Festival.

The first BIFF, set for April 23-28, is being organized without much fanfare by the Beijing Gehua Cultural Development Group. Although just five weeks off, few details about the program or its objectives have been announced and state-run Gehua did not return phone calls.

What is sure is that the BIFF, and now the Beijing Screenings, too, will land in the calendar shortly after the Hong Kong International Film Festival (ongoing through Apr. 7), shortly before the May 11 Festival de Cannes, and could steal a march on China’s largest annual film event to date, the Shanghai International Film Festival on June 11.

The new Chinese film festival’s timing is making things tough for the 15th Beijing Screenings, now running from Apr. 23-26, said Zhou Tiedong, president of Screenings organizer China Film Promotion International.

“Our new dates are to accommodate the film festival, but since it’s only been half a year since our last event, we’ve not had much time to prepare.  We’ll try to have as many films as last year,” said Zhou.

Despite the time crunch, the Beijing Screenings will try, once again, to show 60 recent Chinese films in full, such as homegrown box office leader Let the Bullets Fly. It could also screen trailers for upcoming films, such as the star-studded The Founding of a Party now in the works to celebrate the 80th year of China’s ruling Communist Party.

“The only requirement is that the films be approved for export by the Film Bureau,” Zhou said.

Historically, this meant that at the first 14 Beijing Screenings, which showed over 630 Chinese films, a great many titles were from state-run studios whose model products fell outside the interest of buyers with a commercial bent or international film festival programmers. 

But visitors to the Beijing Sreenings had increased in recent years as producers showed up to try to get to know China’s film industry establishment on its home turf in hopes of cementing relations with the bureaucracy of the world’s fastest-growing film market.

China’s box office receipts jumped 64 percent in 2010 to hit $1.5 billion, driven up by a middle class getting more comfortable with paying a premium for Imax and 3D titles, many of them imported.

Of the 526 films made in China last year, roughly 113 were deemed by Chinese exhibitors to hold enough commercial potential to warrant nationwide theatrical release. A great many of the most lucrative were international co-productions whose growth in number is another reason recent Beijing Screenings attendance was up.

Zhou, hoping to clarify, he still means business said: “The new film festival is a government event, while ours is a market event.”

Still, the cards may be stacked against him this year, he acknowledged, adding: “Many of our regular customers will not change their travel plans on such short notice. I expect next year will be better.”

To help draw visitors, CFPI has offered industry guests five days accommodation, meals and transportation to and from the hotel, usually the centrally located but unremarkable Novotel Peace Hotel, and the event venues, which in the past included The Broadway Cinematheque theater under the Grand Hyatt, the Reignwood Theater in the Chaoyang district, and the far-flung China Film Archive Imax theater out toward the Beijing International Airport.