Shanghai International Film Festival is cinema showcase

China's biggest film festival thinks globally

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Driven by Chinese co-productions and a fair number of homegrown films, the Shanghai International Film Festival is rapidly becoming a cinema showcase for China.

One of only 12 competitive international film festivals accredited by the International Federation of Film Producer Associations (FIAPF), SIFF, which runs from June 14-22, will be the event's 11th edition and the second year as a separate entity from the Shanghai TV Festival.

"As the only international film festival in China, SIFF takes the responsibility to enhance the connection between the Chinese and the international film industry," says Yu Kan, the festival's director of business development.

This is not to say that SIFF is the only game around. Filmart, the Hong Kong International Film & TV Market, attracted approximately 4,200 industry attendees and 483 exhibitors from 30 countries to its event in March. And in the past, burnout from May's Festival de Cannes has meant fewer international high-level executives attending SIFF. But Royal Chen, a SIFF organizer, expects the 2008 event to top its 2007 audience of more than 240,000 guests. "For films that have been already made, the big Chinese market is a place they cannot refuse," he says.

Still, China remains a challenging environment for international producers and distributors. Regulations that limit the number of imported films to 20 a year show few signs of loosening up, and piracy continues to flourish. The run-up to the Olympics has only added tensions between China and the rest of the world. Visa restrictions have been tightened, and the availability of shooting permits has also decreased. And in order for any film to be screened at a Chinese film festival like SIFF, it must comply with China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) regulations, which could result in censorship of some of this year's 1,050 submissions.

Despite these challenges, foreign production companies remain intent on engaging with the immense and expanding Chinese film market. Boxoffice revenues hit 3.3 billion yuan ($476 million) last year, up 27% from 2.6 billion yuan in 2006, according to data from SARFT.

Christine Pernin, the head of Unifrance, an organization that promotes French cinema, sees Shanghai's festival as a unique opportunity for international exchange. "Unifrance is happy to be hosting a booth at the Shanghai Film Festival again," says Pernin, noting that the festival hotel, the Crowne Plaza, has upgraded its lobby, screening and meeting rooms since last year. "It is my hope that SIFF provides a very special place for countries to meet about film."

This year, SIFF will bring back the China Film Pitch & Catch project showcase, which provides promising young filmmakers opportunities to sit with producers and practice selling their films in hopes of securing funds from the worldwide market. The festival also features the International Student Shorts Awards, which showcases short films from students around the world. The Asia New Talent Award honors first- or second-time directors, and the festival's main prizes -- the Golden Cup or Jin Jue Awards -- have categories for best film, best director and best actor and actress, among others. Additional offerings include a film panorama, a film market and the opportunity for selected projects from both Chinese and international participants to enter into discussions with film industry representatives.

All of these events aim to nurture the industry through creating new business ventures and showcasing Chinese talent. Says Chen: "SIFF hopes to be the incubator of the Chinese or even the Asian film industry."