Shanghai festival opener is bittersweet

Ceremony toned down in mourning of quake victims

Complete Shanghai film fest coverage

SHANGHAI -- The pall of the recent earthquake in China hung over Day 1 of the 11th Shanghai International Film Festival on Saturday, sapping the event of the glitz it had begun to display in recent years.

The opening ceremony, clocking in at 30 minutes, was the shortest in memory and lacked typically long-winded speeches by Chinese government officials.

"The SIFF ceremony is very low profile this year because of the national mourning," said Yue-Sai Kan, founder of Yue-Sai cosmetics and a popular television hostess.

There were no limousines and no red carpet. Guests arrived at the Shanghai Grand Theater by bus, sedan and SUV and walked a carpet decorated with giant pink hearts to honor the 70,000 people who lost their lives in the May 12 quake in Sichuan Province.

Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai spoke briefly in support of the 5 million Chinese left homeless by the quake. A lifetime achievement award was given posthumously to Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella, whose widow, Carolyn Choa, appeared on his behalf. Wong replaced Minghella as the festival's Jin Jue award jury chair.

Next, actress Zhang Ziyi was given the award for Outstanding Achievement in Film and Qin Yi, famous for her 1930s roles, was named the honorary recipient of the SIFF Lifetime Achievement Award for Chinese Filmmakers.

Chuck Boller, executive director of the Hawaii International Film Festival, was in Shanghai for a ninth year, seeking films for his lineup in October. "The choice of films gets better all the time," he said.

Boller praised Shanghai for approaching in quality South Korea's Pusan International Film Festival, also held each October. He noted, however, that China's most international city still failed to draw a large group of overseas guests.

Betty Brow, executive vice president of international banking at the Bank of Hawaii -- and one of Boller's festival sponsors -- was at the opening looking for investment opportunities. "We specialize in the film industry," Brow said. "We have the largest Chinese team of all the banks in Hawaii."

After the opening remarks, many guests left before the unveiling of the opening film, the Chinese documentary "Olympic Dreamers."

Tomas Prasek, co-founder of a Czech company whose technology helps stage film festivals, observed: "There's a movie going on which almost nobody is watching."