MPAA's Chris Dodd Presses China to Open Film Market

Chris Dodd AMPAS 2011
Matt Petit/©AMPAS

“If the argument is that China’s not mature enough, well that’s baloney,” the MPAA chairman said at the 14th Shanghai International Film Festival Monday.

SHANGHAI – In his third month as chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, Chris Dodd visited China for the first time since 1983, and promised guests of the 14th Shanghai International Film Festival he would be coming back every year as Hollywood’s ties to China grow stronger.

Dodd, a veteran former Democratic Senator from the small state of Connecticut with experience in Latin American foreign policy and banking oversight but no particular background in China -- now the world’s fastest growing movie market -- said that the country’s relationship with Disney, Fox, Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner echoed the title of one of China’s earliest films, the 1913 Shanghai-made feature: A Couple in Difficulty.

Dodd will visit central government officials in Beijing on Tuesday where he said he “will not ignore the concerns Hollywood has raised for years” -- such as the widespread theft of intellectual property, limited market access for imported films and high barriers to inbound investment -- but nor would he “fail to acknowledge – indeed, celebrate – the progress we’ve made and the potential I see for both parties.”

It was with quiet frustration that the MPAA and the U.S. Trade Representative watched as a March 19 World Trade Organization deadline for China to open its market to greater foreign participation in film distribution came and went with little more than Beijing’s pleas for patience and understanding.

“If the argument is that China’s not mature enough, well that’s baloney,” Dodd told The Hollywood Reporter after delivering his address through a simultaneous interpreter to a packed forum at the film festival. “If Virgil was talking about Chinese culture in Rome thousands of years ago, there ought to be confidence enough today to make and export Chinese culture without fearing healthy competition at home.”

Dodd’s visit comes as China’s one-party government and state-run film industry celebrate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, in Shanghai on July 1, 1921, with the release of the propaganda film The Beginning of a Great Revival. His arrival also falls days after Paramount and DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda2: the Kaboom of Doom delivered the most successful opening ever at the Chinese box office.

This contrast of Chinese versus Hollywood content is notable, especially considering regulations that limit Hollywood to sending only 20 films a year into China from which the studios are allowed to share in returns -- yet those films have tended in recent years to outsell Chinese competitors two to one.

Dodd told THR that the discussion of what some in the industry already are calling the “failed” WTO ruling was “ongoing” and that he’d heard second hand that “things seem to be moving,” and that there was “reason for optimism.”

“The USTR is waiting for China to make an offer,” said Dodd, noting, in retrospect that “nobody had anticipated that March 19 would come and there’d be perfect change overnight.”

Asked to respond to the view of E. Bennett Walsh, the independent producer in China of director Quentin Taratino’s two Kill Bill films, that legislation is not the way to go in trying to get China to open up, Dodd said: “Independent filmmakers migrate from studio to studio and their success is not a liability for the MPAA. It’s in their interest, too, what we’re doing here in China. We’ve got to keep pushing. At some point the door’s going to open for everyone.”

Dodd said he’d met with Shanghai Vice Mayor Tu Guangshao, a former stock exchange regulator who also chairs the film festival, and that he was impressed with Tu’s “excellent” English and his knowledge of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act Dodd co-authored with U.S. Representative Barney Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts.

“The Vice mayor loved Dodd-Frank and was asking wonderful questions about it,” Dodd said.

Dodd, who began an interview excusing himself for being so tired after a whirlwind trip, fumbled for the title of his favorite Chinese-language film until two aides nearby helped him along, citing American director Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon as his answer.