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Expanding film quotas in China, a blockbuster boom in South Korea, signs of recovery in the U.K., cutbacks in Italy — here’s the lowdown on how the state of 12 major film markets will impact AFM this year.
Canada: Taking a Worldwide View
Canadian film is on a world tour. Homegrown projects like David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method and Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz with their Hollywood actors and universal storylines are connecting with American audiences and beyond. And how upcoming Canadian films with foreign locations like Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children and Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways fare on stateside release will say a lot about their prospects overseas. Domestic box-office receipts for Canadian film came to $27.5 million in 2011, up 12 percent from 2010. At AFM, indie distributor Breakthrough Entertainment will have high hopes about the first footage from the Jason Priestley directed Richard Dreyfuss comedy Cas & Dylan.
United Kingdom: Optimism Across the Pond
No one wants to jinx it, but there is an air of confidence for U.K. prospects at AFM this year. Box-office takings in 2011 broke the £1 billion barrier in the U.K. for the first time ever, with Oscar winner The King’s Speech raking in $69 million and The Inbetweeners collecting $78 million to whet an increased appetite for the British indie movie scene. Total investment in movie production reached nearly $2 billion in 2011, a fresh record for the local film sector. And things might get better: As of this year, there’s a new public funding sheriff in town who’s touting a larger than ever lottery-fueled cashpool for production and development, with $32 million in 2013, which will rise annually to nearly $40 million by 2017.
France: Gallic Producers Go Big
With local box office totaling more than $1.2 billion for the first nine months of this year, France is a bit behind the pace set in the record-breaking 2011. Homegrown fare, however, is popular as always, with nearly 40 percent of receipts claimed by local productions (49 percent goes to U.S. titles). French distributors might be cautious on smaller films at AFM because local theaters are experiencing ruthless congestion, with an unprecedented 26 new releases coming in a single week this month. But bigger titles are performing, with EuropaCorp’s Taken 2 reaching the $20 million in two-plus weeks and Wild Bunch releasing the fourth installment of the Asterix and Obelix franchise, this time directed in 3D by Little Nicholas helmer Laurent Tirard.
Spain: Exports Show
Promise Spanish film-export revenue doubled in 2011 to $240 million with 30 million ticket sales, according to the Spanish Producers Federation. The country earned twice as much abroad last year as at the domestic box office, where it cornered 15 percent of the sales with $120 million. That fact, coupled with the financial crisis that is weighing heavily on the country’s economy and moviegoers’ pocketbooks, means Spanish companies are increasingly looking for broadappeal, internationally viable product to hawk at markets like AFM. The results are promising. Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Impossible broke Spanish box-office records for the best three-day opening, and the animated Tad, the Lost Explorer became a surprise hit.
Germany: Leading the Way in Europe
Germany has escaped the ravages that the Euro crisis has wrought on some of its debt-ridden neighbors. While Spain, Italy and Greece have seen box office plunge, receipts in Germany have ticked upward, topping $600 million for the first half of this year. Expect German distributors at AFM to have their wallets out — especially Senator, riding high following the spectacular success of French comedy The Intouchables, which earned a record-breaking $75 million in its German release. On the sales side, Mister Smith Entertainment will be looking to tap into Twilight’s fan base with its sizzle reel for Constantin Film’s teen fantasy The Mortal Instruments, while The Match Factory is offering the ambitious Measuring the World, billed as the first 3D period drama.
Italy: Economy Sparks Cutbacks
With the nation in the grips of a long economic malaise, Italian companies won’t be heading to AFM as buyers. Instead, normally active purchasers like Mediaset’s Medusa, the state-owned RAI Cinema and 01 Distribution have issued a moratorium on international acquisitions in order to focus on less expensive Italian co-productions. But that does not mean Italian-made productions will not be in evidence in Santa Monica. Perhaps the most high-profile film screening will be Marco Bellocchio’s Bella Adormentata (Dormant Beauty). The film, from Celluloid Dreams, screened to strong reviews at the Venice Film Festival then attracted more attention when Bellocchio complained that it went home without a prize. It looks to fare better at AFM.
India: Bollywood Lightens Up
Indian cinema is experiencing a feel-good vibe. A string of Bollywood blockbusters such as action caper Ek Tha Tiger (There Was a Tiger) and Oscar entry Barfi! have crossed the coveted 1 billion rupee ($20 million) mark at the local box office this year. Equally important is the growing trend of films with offbeat storylines and non-marquee stars. These include Anurag Kashyap’s two-part epic Gangs of Wasseypur, a co-production with Viacom18 Motion Pictures that premiered in the Director’s Fortnight program at Cannes. One of the most anticipated films this year is the London-set relationship drama Jab Tak Hai Jaan (on offer at AFM from Yash Raj Films) from recently deceased director Yash Chopra and starring superstar Shah Rukh Khan (Don 2).
Thailand: It’s All About Location
The Thai entertainment industry is having a good year. The Avengers took in $8 million at the local box office, and a new generation of art house talent is emerging. The twentysomething Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit is the latest beacon for the cause, his experimental film 36 winning the New Currents first-time filmmaker prize at the Busan International Film Festival in September. With its low costs, experienced talent pool (for the region) and stunning scenery, Thailand is only becoming more popular as an Asian shooting location. The boom continues in 2013 with the Nicole Kidman– Colin Firth starrer The Railway Man; Nicolas Winding Refn’s Muay Thai action film Only God Forgives, starring Ryan Gosling; and The Coup, with Owen Wilson and Pierce Brosnan.
China: Quotas Change the Game
According to Hong Kong-based Emperor Motion Pictures CEO Albert Lee, who is at AFM to rep the Chinese co-production The Last Supper, even “conservative estimates” point to box office of $2.56 billion in 2012, up 23 percent from last year. That belies a difficult year for Chinese filmmakers as local product struggles to compete against imports — a problem that will become more acute as the annual foreign-film quota is raised from 20 to 34. The 2012 box office is revealing: Only one Chinese film, Painted Skin: Resurrection, appears to be a top 10 worldwide hit. Then there are “unclear factors” affecting production: Lee said an imminent changing of the guard in Beijing has led to a slowdown in processing applications for shooting permits.
Hong Kong: Edgy Fare Strikes a Chord
While Hollywood blockbusters continue to dominate the multiplexes, homegrown fare is making headway. The highest grossing Chinese-language films in 2012 thus far, the edgy Love in the Buff and Vulgaria — both from Hong Kong’s favorite son, Pang Ho-cheung — hit a bull’s-eye with adventurous local audiences, each grossing more than $3.5 million. Even the recent hit, Due West: Our Sex Journey, was adapted from a popular local online forum. The fact that Hong Kong cinemagoers react warmly toward subject matter and characters they recognize is not lost on studios. Upcoming attractions such as Emperor’s Triads and MegaVision’s remake of the 1990s crime franchise Young and Dangerous were developedwith the local audience in mind.
South Korea: Local Releases Heat Up
Observers are speaking of a “South Korean film renaissance” these days thanks to the popularity ofindigenous franchises. Theaters have sold more than 88 million tickets as of mid-October, already surpassing 2011’s totalof 82 million. Moviegoers are demonstrating a strong preference for local fare, which accounts for 57.8 percent of the market. Seven of the 10-highest-grossing films in 2012 are Korean. The Thieves (at AFM via Showbox) rewrote local box-office history as the most-watched Korean movie of all time, racking up more than13 million viewers since its July release. On Oct. 21, the period drama Masquerade (repped at AFM by CJ Entertainment) brought in 10 million admissions, becoming just the seventh homespun movie to reach that milestone.
Japan: 2011 Disasters Still Felt
After the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident, local box office is up only slightly this year, with first-half revenue of the major distributors totaling about $1.05 billion amid waning enthusiasm for foreign fare ingeneral. Thermae Romae, a time-travel romp based on a hit manga, is the biggest earner in Japan this year, pulling in abou t$75 million. Only two Hollywood films —Resident Evil: Retribution,which is based on a Japanese video game, and The Avengers— are in the top 10 this year (each with about $45 million). Japan remains the world’s No. 2 theatrical market, but a shrinking young population and a rising China mean it’s only a matter of time before it falls behind its Asian neighbor.
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