Beijing film festival opens amid China’s movie industry boom

BEIJING — The second annual Beijing International Film Festival opens Monday amid a film industry boom in China.

Box-office revenue totaled more than $2 billion for the first time in 2011. And in the quarter just ended China overtook Japan to become the largest foreign market for American films, thanks in part to continued movie theater expansion. The number of screens doubled in five years to 10,700 at the end of last year.

That number is expected to rise to 13,000 by the end of 2012, according to the Motion Picture Assn. of America. The total Chinese spending on media and entertainment — a figure that lumps together consumer and advertiser expenditures for all forms of filmed entertainment — will grow to $133 billion in 2014, according to the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

That will come as very good news to the visiting American filmmakers whose movies will be among the 200 foreign films featured at the six-day Beijing event — among them James Cameron, whose 3-D re-release of “Titanic” scored the second-largest opening-day numbers in Chinese history, and Tom DeSanto, whose “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” last summer scored the largest.

Cameron and DeSanto will give talks on film franchises and 3-D movies, of increasing importance since the Beijing government in February relaxed restrictions on the number of U.S.-made and large-format films, like IMAX movies, that can play in Chinese theaters and the amount of revenue they can return abroad.

The China National Convention Center — built as the media center for the 2008 Beijing Olympics — will host screenings of recent best foreign film Oscar winner “A Separation,” from Iran; the new release “We Have a Pope,” from Italy; and the closing night film, “The Artist,” from France. (No opening film has been announced.) “The Avengers” star Jeremy Renner will walk the red carpet. Festival attendees may also see other Oscar-nominated movies, including Terence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” and Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo.”

Last year, more than 100,000 tickets were sold to BIFF screenings. But because of censorship issues many of the 200 foreign films at this year’s festival, which join 60 Chinese features, may never be seen by the Chinese public. Others may lose certain moments. A nude scene from “Titanic,” which held the top box-office record for 11 years after its 1998 Chinese release, was excised from the recent 3-D re-release — its absence noted by film fans who saw uncut versions of the movie on pirated DVD copies. Last year’s festival offering “Black Swan” also saw sex scenes snipped.

Among the festival’s panel discussions will be a session with Jim Gianopulos, chief executive of Fox Filmed Entertainment; Marvel International President Simon Philips; Wang Zhongjun, founder and chairman of leading independent Huayi Brothers Media; and China Film Group Chairman Han Sanping.

Han, whose state-owned company is China’s sole importer of films for theatrical release, toured Los Angeles last month with, among others, Dan Mintz, chief executive of Beijing-based DMG Entertainment, a 19-year-old Chinese-American media company involved in film co-productions and distribution in China.

Mintz, who Tuesday announced DMG would co-produce “Iron Man 3" in China with Walt Disney Co. and its Marvel subsidiary later this year, said: “This is really the ride up. You have the perfect storm of coming consumerism, constant shifts by the government to keep things a certain way, and the growth of habitual moviegoing. Soon more Chinese will enjoy going to the cinema.”

Until recently, the Chinese film market has been among the most restrictive in the world. Observers see the relaxation continuing.

“It’s a big thing for [Chinese Vice President] Xi Jinping to push out this policy. It will change the landscape and help all the country’s new theaters,” said Zhang Zhao, chief executive of Beijing-based Le Vision Pictures, the start-up production arm of a major online distributor. Zhang is expected to announce at the festival his company’s distribution plans for Lionsgate’s “Expendables 2,” starring Sylvester Stallone and martial arts legend Jet Li.

Jonah Greenberg, who in 2005 helped open Creative Artists Agency’s China office in Beijing, said China is beginning to be a force on the world movie map.

“China as a film market has finally come into its own and warrants a festival platform for its talent,” Greenberg said.