China looks for film export opportunities

Industry needs upgrade, diversity of genres, experts say

BEIJING -- La Peikang, a board director of China Film Group, said Thursday that the Chinese government wants the private sector to expand its role in the export of films.
Speaking Thursday at a Beijing Screenings debate about the prospects for Chinese films overseas, executives and intellectuals threw out a string of other ideas for expansion of exports.
Exports of Chinese movies have grown from RMB1.15 billion ($169 million) in 2004 to RMB2.5 billion ($368 million) in 2008. In that last year North America was the biggest export destination.
Stanley Rosen, a USC professor and director of the East Asian Studies Center, questioned the definitions of success and pointed to Japan and Korea as offering better export potential than the hard to crack U.S. market.
In what appeared to be a hint that China Film Promotion International, the state-backed sales company, might one day be sidelined, La said that "the export sector needs to be run by private companies" and that eventually "the government will withdraw from the market."
CFPI is one of the largest and most visible outfits involved in international sales of Chinese films, although La said that privately-owned Huayi Brothers was last year the biggest exporter by value.
To achieve more export success China needs to understand the power of brands and star names, Rosen said. He also pointed out how, inadvertently, the Chinese authorities had created brand-name art-house directors with media resonance in the West, when they banned filmmakers such as Lou Ye, Li Yu and Jia Zhangke. Jia he described as a "brand name art-house director" whose films have sales potential, small theatrical prospects but the ability to perform on DVD in overseas markets.
The candor continued later in the debate with Professor Yin Hong first speaking of the great progress of the industry since 2001, but also urging substantial further change. "We still need to upgrade the entirety of the Chinese film industry," he said. That means making more films with entertainment value, an elimination of corruption and better quality animated films. Compared with "Ice Age," he described Chinese animated movies as "shitty."
La also reminded a mixed audience of foreign delegates and local filmmakers that the Chinese government now operates a subsidy scheme for film exports, but said that many in China are not yet aware of its existence.
In a further example of pump-priming, La also explained that exporters can earn tax rebates and that the 300 state-backed Confucius Institutes around the world can offer help additional help with subtitles and the cost of striking prints.
During his speech he said that development of theme parks was one of eight priority areas and dropped a hint that the Disney proposal for a park in Shanghai "may soon be approved."