BEIJING -- The Beijing International Film Festival kicked off in the Chinese capital on Wednesday, opening with the French production "Beauty and the Beast" directed by Christophe Gans and starring Léa Seydoux and Vincent Cassel.
In only its fourth year, the Beijing fest is a grab-bag affair still seeking a distinct identity. But with China's box office growing rapidly and now second only to the U.S. in earnings, a variety of big Western names is attending, including directors Alfonso Cuaron and Oliver Stone, Paramount Pictures chief operating officer Frederick Huntsberry and MPAA chief Christopher Dodd.
More than 260 Chinese and foreign films from 79 countries will be screened during the week-long festival at 30 different venues. Director John Woo will head up the festival jury, and 15 films are in competition for the Tiantan Award, with prizes in 10 categories; winners will be named on the closing day, April 23.
Though the foreign films have previously been shown elsewhere -- "Beauty and the Beast," for instance, screened at the Berlin International Film Festival and has already opened across much of Europe -- in many cases it will be the first time Chinese audiences are getting a chance to see them on the big screen.
A number of American classics, including the James Dean-starring "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955) and George Stevens' "Giant" (1956), will be shown.
Being presented for the first time are digital restorations of four Chinese classics: "Romance of a Fruit Peddler" (1922); the influential 1948 romantic drama "Spring in a Small Town"; the Shanghai postwar tale "Myriads of Lights" (1948); and "New Women" (1935), showcasing Ruan Lingyu, the so-called Greta Garbo of China.
Two other European restorations will also screen: the 1928 British film "Underground" by Anthony Asquith and Italian Roberto Rossellini's "Roma, citta aperta" from 1945.
Animation is a special focus of the festival this year. Audiences can see "Horton Hears a Who," "Rio," "Toy Story 3," "Planes," "Wall.E" and a selection of Pixar shorts. An industry panel on animation will feature speakers including Rob Minkoff, director of "The Lion King" and "Mr. Peabody & Sherman"; "Chicken Run" director-writer-producer Peter Lord; and "Frozen" producer Peter Del Vecho and the film's effects supervisor, Dale Mayeda.
After screening the entire eight-film "Harry Potter" series last year, the fest this year will give audiences the chance to revisit the full "Mission: Impossible" canon and refresh their memories about the first three "Transformers" films before the fourth arrives in theaters this summer.
Among the other U.S. films on tap: Disney's "Saving Mr. Banks"; Lynn Shelton's "Touchy Feely"; the Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and James Gandolfini relationship drama "Enough Said"; and the Sylvester Stallone-Robert De Niro boxing flick "Grudge Match." Documentaries showing include the Oscar-winning "20 Feet From Stardom" and "Linsanity," about basketball phenom Jeremy Lin.