Co-productions the way to go, China says

Local filmmakers urged to look beyond national borders

More Shanghai festival news

SHANGHAI – Co-productions represent the road forward for the Chinese movie industry, filmmakers were told Tuesday, but there were different opinions over how far Chinese filmmakers should go.

"Co-productions represent a major force at the boxoffice," said Tong Gang, director of the Film Bureau at the State Administration of Radio Film and Television, speaking at a seminar organized by the Shanghai International Film Festival. "In 2008, eight films exceeded RMB100 million ($14.6 million), and all eight of them were co-productions. Co-productions help us build capacity and propagate Chinese culture."

Han Sanping, chairman of the state-backed studio China Film Group, boldly forecast that the Chinese market for film would be worth $4.4 billion within 10 years as theater operators deepen their activities and expand from top-tier cities into smaller towns and rural areas.

However, he and other speakers appeared to use a narrow definition of co-productions. "My vision is for China, Hong Kong and Taiwan to be joint producers for this giant market," he said.

Director John Woo pointed to his recent blockbuster "Red Cliff" as an example of the positive benefits of co-production. "Co-production with Hong Kong and Taiwan allowed us to learn how best to portray warfare to audience tastes," he said.

Added Enlight Pictures president Zhang Zhao: "China and Hong Kong have been the dominant co-production axis until now. That has to change, we have to experiment." In particular, he pointed to development of a possible highway linking the U.S., Japan and China in the field of animation.

British producer Julian Alcantara urged Chinese filmmakers not to think within national confines and suggested China involve itself with co-productions involving cultural exchange, not just financial interaction. "Are you Chinese filmmakers or filmmakers who just happen to be Chinese?" he asked.

Hong Kong-based film director Gordon Chan, who last year hit Chinese boxoffice gold with "Painted Skin," struck a controversial note while also urging a focus on quality. "The market may be growing at 25% a year, but that is partly a result of wider economic growth," he said. "Are our movies really more popular? Does that make our movies more successful in Europe and the U.S.?"

At previous forums overseas, producers have been encouraged to regard co-productions with China as ways for foreign films to avoid import quota restrictions. Chan also pointed to government protection for the film industry as artificially boosting Chinese films. "A so-so film can make about $34 million), but would it have done so without government protection?" he asked.