Fest heads mull state of the art

Shanghai panel offers takes on events' bigger picture

The directors of the world's top film festivals gathered with a few new peers in China's commercial capital for the first time Sunday to offer perspectives to about 300 guests of the 10th Shanghai International Film Festival.

Geoffrey Gilmore, director of the Sundance Film Festival, cautioned mainland China's premier cinema event against aspirations to be recognized as a class-A event.

"It's not about stars," Gilmore said, addressing the summit hosted by The Hollywood Reporter publishing director Eric Mika. "The Sundance Film Festival has no red-carpet events."

Gilmore advised film festivals worldwide to shy away from art films and auteurs and concentrate instead on discovering new talent.

Other summit participants included Ren Zhonglun, president of the Shanghai Film Group, a festival organizer, and director Wang Quan'an, whose "Tuya's Marriage" won the top honors this year at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Marco Mueller, director of the world's oldest cinematic gathering, the Venice Film Festival — where Chinese director Jia Zhangke's "Still Life" won last year — said he aims to strike a balance between commercial films and what he called "the few precious gems."

"We have not done our job if viewers walk out of the festival unchanged," Mueller said.

Jia also was present at the summit.

Seizing her chance to promote one such would-be gem, Cao Jin, a recent graduate of the Communication University of China in Beijing, slipped a DVD to Mika, who then held it up to the audience. The guerilla marketing paid off and several festival directors snapped up copies of the short film, agreeing aloud that festivals identify new talent and give them a platform.

After a morning session, the assembled festival directors — which also included Jerome Paillard of the Festival de Cannes, Kim Dong-ho of Pusan, Sandra den Hammer of Rotterdam and James Hindman of the American Film Institute — broke for a closed luncheon hosted by Tian Jin, vice minister of the State Administration of Radio Film and Television.

Chuck Boller, executive director of the Hawaii International Film Festival, said that one topic of discussion over lunch was how to persuade Asian directors to premiere their works in Shanghai; the festival lacks a single world or international premiere this year.

To change this, Boller said, organizers must get distributors to attend. If China's most cosmopolitan city can't attract buyers by itself, organizers might need to entice them to break the "chicken and egg" cycle.

Mika said that the roughly 600 world-class film festivals held each year represent something more than a chance at a sale: a break from the rough world filled with political and religious divisions.

"These festivals offer a reprieve to see what binds us together in humanity," he said. "This is a very noble excuse to bring us together to create a dialogue and inspire communication and tolerance."

One place that sentiment might be clearest is at the Dubai International Film Festival. Chairman Abdulhamid Juma said that there has been much misunderstanding about the Arab world in the aftermath of Sept. 11. The Dubai event is the world's newest and one of its fastest growing festivals, Juma said. Founded in 2004, the DIFF hopes to promote cultural understanding by offering a platform for the 60-70 films produced in the Middle East each year.