Dazed Digital


Shanghai International Film Festival

June 10, 2011

The 14th annual film festival opens this Saturday with some surprising guests

  • Text by Satellite Voices

Guest Feature by Nicola Davison

It’s perhaps telling that the most hyped personality slated to speak at the Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF) is media mogul Rupert Murdoch. News of his visit has had almost as much press as the films in competition, something that reflects the significance of China’s biggest film festival – opening this Saturday June 11 until June 19 – not in the creative sense, but in a business one.

International entertainment heavyweights, such as Murdoch and the Motion Picture Association of America head, Christopher Dodd, are due to attend, no doubt hoping to tap into the lucrative Chinese market that saw box office sales leap 65 per cent last year to £1 billion. Local media claims that in the last year a new screen has opened in China every day.

Yet it’s a market that’s closely guarded by the Chinese government, something international studios – particularly those in Hollywood – hope to redress. Currently, China only allows 20 foreign films to be imported each year, which goes against World Trade Organisation (WHO) regulations. America has called for reform (Hollywood productions do very well in China – Avatar remain the highest grossing film of all time). The deadline given to China for reform – March 19 – has so far been politely ignored.

But during SIFF, there are plenty of foreign films to see. Arguably, however, it’s the foreign films showing out of competition, (such as Wim Wenders’ already-sold-out "Pina") that are most exciting. In competition, there’s been most buzz about UK director Roland Joffé’s "There Be Dragons", which follows the priest who founded of the Catholic organisation Opus Dei. Added to this is a new film by Portuguese veteran Alberto Seixas Santos, "Time Bends", about a soap opera star who begins to question her career decision with the appearance of an old flame. Both have received lukewarm reviews.

More exciting, are the Media Award and Asian New Talent categories, which act as a platform for domestic and Asian films hoping to break out of the Chinese market. Among the enticing line-up for the Media Award, Zhang Meng’s Piano in a Factory, which has already picked up an award at the Tokyo International Film Festival, stands out. It’s a meditative look at life in China’s far north, centering on a laid-off steelworker’s struggle to build a piano for his daughter.

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