• Industry

Marco Polo Dreams: Hollywood and China

Adrien Brody is on the stage and he’s holding a big envelope. Behind him, there’s a glitzy set, with big screens everywhere and the kind of set design than can be seen in any big awards show in the world. Adrien smiles, opens the envelope and announces the name of the winner for Best Director. Seconds later, Zhang Ziyi, a Golden Globe nominee in 2006 for her dramatic leading role in Memoirs of a Geisha, comes to the stage to receive it on behalf of Wong Kar Wai, who is not present. This is the second time that Ziyi has stepped on the stage in just a few minutes, after winning herself as Best Actress for The Grandmaster, the film that was the big champion of the night, taking home 3 Tantian awards, as the golden statuettes at the Beijing International Film Festival are known.
Then the party continues into the night in the main theater of the BTW Tower, a huge skyscraper in China’s capital where some of the most important TV shows of the local television are made. This is not just a closing ceremony for a film festival; it’s an awards show, which obviously mimics some others made regularly across the globe. Yes, Beijing is looking to Hollywood in the same way as Hollywood is looking to Beijing, and it’s not shy about it. During the night, the host in charge of delivering the few words that are spoken in English, keeps saying: “we want to send our Chinese films to the world”. Still, most of the stars here are not known in the rest of the planet, but it may be just a short time before we learn who Fan Bingbing, Wang Xueqi o Zhou Xun are. True, the level of films shown here, even the ones in competition, was far below any other established big film festival, including Shanghai, which for the moment runs no risk of being surpassed as the largest and most prestigious film festival in China. But the deals that were signed in the Beijing market that was held during three days were huge. A total of 32 contracts were finalized, with a value estimated in 10 billion yuan (or $1.6 billion), the largest ever total in the history of China. The deals for film co-productions were valued at 3.8 billion yuan ($609 million in U.S. dollars), with the remainder related to the construction of new cinemas, production facilities and many other film-related projects.
It was during the film market that Paramount Pictures struck a deal with powerful China Film Group to coproduce a new version in 3D of the Marco Polo story that will be filmed in China and directed by Rob Cohen, helmer of the first Fast and Furious. Rob Moore, Vice Chairman of Paramount Pictures, who made the trip to Beijing, said that filming was expected to start in October and that the huge production will include both Chinese and Hollywood stars. This is the kind of agreement that big studios are desperately seeking, the ones that can guarantee a release in the Chinese market, which remains limited to only 32 foreign productions per year. The as-yet untitled Marco Polo film won’t have to deal with that quota, because it will be considered a Chinese production. And trying to get a release in the lucrative Chinese market these days is a must for every big production from Hollywood. Captain America: The Winter Soldier made 80 million dollars in just 2 weeks here, while Need for Speed survived a bumpy opening in the U.S. by making more than $60 million since being released in China, transforming a bomb into a hit.
Certainly, the Beijing Film Festival has the strategic position and the budget to become a key event for the global industry. The fact that a very busy Alfonso Cuarón accepted the invitation to be part of the opening ceremony along with another famous director, Oliver Stone, was a practical demonstration of how willing filmmakers and Hollywood celebrities are to make the long trip to the Chinese capital. Even if Brody was the most famous Hollywood actor seen here, big caliber directors such as Paul Haggis, Paul Thomas Anderson and Jean-Jacques Annaud, who has spent the last 6 years working on a new film that will only feature Chinese stars, were on hand to participate in several of the many activities prepared for the festival.

Gabriel Lerman