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The film business moves from Hollywood to Asia

February 11th, 2013 |  Published in Intellectual Property, Media 2.0

 

11 February 2013– The 63rd Berlin film festival (also called the Berlinale) opened last week. Founded in West Berlin in 1951, the festival has been celebrated annually in February since 1978. With around 300,000 tickets sold and 500,000 admissions it is considered the largest publicly attended film festival worldwide. Up to 400 films are shown in several sections, representing a comprehensive array of the cinematic world. Around twenty films compete for the awards called the Golden and Silver Bears.

The festival opened with a gala screening of Chinese director Wong Kar Wai’s martial arts epic “The Grandmaster” about the mentor of kung fu superstar Bruce Lee. Wong, who is also leading the Berlinale’s jury this year, is using the event as a launch pad for the film’s worldwide release which has opened in China to rave reviews and a box office bonanza. The film, whose original two-hours-plus length has been chopped slightly for the world market, stars Hong Kong heart-throb Tony Leung, who became an international star in Wong’s 2000 hit “In the Mood for Love”, and Beijing-born star Zhang Ziyi (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”). The film spans several decades of Chinese history to tell the story of legendary martial artist Yip Man, who went on to train Lee, and features dazzling battle scenes between rival fighters.

Wong, 54, told reporters in Beijing last month he was confident the movie, which is screening out of competition at the 11-day Berlinale, had global appeal.
“There is no such thing as a Western or Eastern audience… The elements of cinema are the same worldwide, although their expression is different,” he said.

No surprise, really. A study by Ernst & Young predicts that China will replace North America as the world’s largest film market by 2020. China’s film market — already the second biggest in the world — will surpass that of the US by 2020. The report suggests the media and entertainment industry in the world’s most populous nation is due to grow by 17% a year until 2015. China is also building 25,000 cinema screens over the next five years, to cope with demand from an increasingly wealthy population. Many will have the latest 4k digital technology. Growth will also be helped by the government’s recent decision to relax the number of foreign movies allowed to screen each year from 20 to 34. Granted, the challenges for media and entertainment companies to penetrate China are still considerable; however, the vast potential of the market makes it impossible to ignore. Companies will need to understand that investing in China is a long-term proposition, and those who can make that commitment will be in a much better position to succeed. For a link to the Ernst&Young study click here.

Oh, and the Chinese firm Tesiro, as one of the Berlinale’s main sponsors, will provide jewelry for the stars on the red carpet. And the Berlinale film market, where dealers from around the world come together to buy and sell films, has seen significantly more Asian companies than in the previous year.

And not just China, but also South Korea and Russia have become more important in the film business in recent years. The Russian market grew by almost 20 percent in 2012, with a film like “Ice Age 4” earning $50 million there, or more than half of its budget.

There is an excellent recap of where this market is going in yesterday’s Spiegel Online (click here).

And just a short summary of what is in store at this year’s event:

*Matt Damon teams up with US director Gus Van Sant for the first time since their 1997 Oscar winner “Good Will Hunting” in “Promised Land”, as a fracking firm executive pressuring cash-strapped farmers to sell their property.

*Steven Soderbergh will enter the running with “Side Effects”, billed as his last movie before he heads into semi-retirement, featuring Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones as psychiatrists handing out drugs to stressed-out Americans.

*The grandes dames of French cinema Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert and Juliette Binoche will all be unveiling new work.

*Poland’s Malgoska Szumowska, one of three women vying for the Golden Bear, will tackle the tale of a gay Roman Catholic priest with the keenly awaited “In the Name of”.

*Iran’s Jafar Panahi, a director who has scooped up international prizes for socially critical movies that are banned at home, will present “Closed Curtain” about two fugitives hiding from the police.

*Oscar-winning Bosnian film-maker Danis Tanovic (“No Man’s Land”) returns with “An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker”, exposing the wretched conditions in a poor and isolated Roma community.

*”Dark Blood”, the last film with River Phoenix, the US rising star who died of a drug overdose at 23 two decades ago, will show out of competition, as will Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s final chapter in their slow-burn romantic trilogy, “Before Midnight” by Richard Linklater.

The event has its own Twitter blog @BerlinaleBlog which you can follow by clicking here.

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