CineAsia bullish on digital, China

Tastes of Chinese audiences seen diversifying

HONG KONG – Digital cinema and 3-D were very much at the heart of this week's CineAsia, Asia's annual convention for the exhibition and distribution industries.
That was scarcely a surprise given the build-up, but the industry executives in attendance nevertheless got a buzz from the proximity of "Avatar"; from 56-minutes of footage of DreamWorks "How To Train Your Dragon"; as well as new footage from the James Cameron juggernaut shown in a 3-D IMAX version at UA Cinemas' yet to open iSquare multiplex in Kowloon.
Analysts, exhibitors and tech suppliers presented different angles on Asia's digital growth story. They largely agreed that the region as a whole has been slower than North America to go digital, but that the pace of installation is now very fast and will accelerate still further in 2010. That's because China now has one of the world's biggest digital installed bases and Korea can foresee an all-digital exhibition landscape within just a couple of years.
Issues remain over standards and the cost of investing in the hardware, but it now seems likely that in both India and China multiple formats will coexist for some years to come; lower-grade e-cinema installations using 0.8k or 1.3k servers and projectors in rural areas and smaller cities, and DCI-compliant 2k or higher kit in the big cities with wealthier, more leisured populations.
In Hong Kong the convention witnessed two local circuits make D-cinema commitments, taking advantage of VPF financing commitments from the Hollywood studios, and giving themselves nearly complete digital coverage by the end of next year. Cyberport, a Hong Kong-government-backed technology pole also confirmed that it is building a local hub that can be used for the deployment of film files to local exhibitors.
Cyberport's fat data pipelines may also be used to link Hong Kong to digital post-production facilities in Los Angeles and New Zealand.
That offers upside to a Hong Kong film production sector that has been scared by the prospect of losing its talent and its market to China. A seminar Thursday heard mostly upbeat discussion about the former British colony's ability to adapt and survive. Production numbers are edging upwards, Wellington Fung of the Film Development Council reported, and Lloyd Chao, said that the once-glorious Shaw Brothers studio is now eying a six-title production slate for 2010 after a hiatus of nearly a decade.
Audiences in China seem to be diversifying their tastes; becoming more interested in family fare, comedies and animation and less in repetitious, epic, martial arts extravaganzas. That could be good news if, as one speaker hinted, Chinese authorities are now preparing to drop their current import quotas within the next 30 months.
Conventioneers also got a peek at upcoming Hollywood movies including "Up In The Air," "The Princess and the Frog" and "Invictus," the latter leaving many supposedly hardened exhibitors distinctly teary.
The bash ended with an award ceremony, presenting prizes to Golden Screen Cinemas Irving Chee, 20th Century Fox's Sunder Kimatrai, Media Asia's Peter Lam, producer Raymond Wong and Chinese star Zhou Xun.