'Water for Elephants' to Open Shanghai International Film Festival

15 STY WATER FOR ELEPHANTS Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon Walking Suitcases
David James/Twentieth Century Fox Film

"Even in her everyday dress, her character is a bit glamorous," West says of Witherspoon (with Robert Pattinson).

News. Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch, jury president Barry Levinson and Susan Sarandon are set to attend the opening ceremony.

BEIJING – Hollywood romantic drama Water for Elephants starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson will open the 14th Shanghai International Film Festival on Saturday, organizers said, breaking a long-standing tradition of keeping the opening film a secret until opening night.

The Fox 2000 film directed by Francis Lawrence, which released in North America in April to mixed reviews and box office results, will show at the Shanghai Grand Theater opening ceremony, which is set to be attended by News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, Hollywood celebrities including SIFF jury president Barry Levinson, actors Susan Sarandon, Matt Dillon and Mischa Barton, and a who’s who of Chinese cinema such as directors John Woo and Feng Xiaogang.

The SIFF runs from June 11-19 and will screen 200 films around China’s largest city at a time when recent stellar box office growth -- up 64 percent in 2010 -- has slowed, rising 8.8 percent from January-March to 2.68 billion yuan ($407.2 million).

Murdoch, who will address SIFF guests in a panel on the topic of film finance on Sunday, will lead a News Corp/Fox delegation in Shanghai that includes Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman Jim Gianopulos and Sanford Panitch, Fox International Productions’ chief.

Fox and other Hollywood studios are forced by Chinese law to compete for just 20 annual slots granted to imported films whose distributors wish to share in a percentage of the gross their ticket sales generate – this despite strong pressure from a March World Trade Organization ruling deadline demanding that China allow “greater foreign participation” in the distribution of copyrighted cultural content.

It was Fox’s Avatar that last spring sparked the rise in China’s annual ticket sales growth. After its January release the James Cameron film went on to gross more than $200 million in China alone, making the territory No. 2 in terms of worldwide ticket sales after North America.