Australian film industry makes China push with Asian cinema to be celebrated


Australia’s film industry has announced a fresh push into Asia, with a new Asian film award and a program aimed at starting more collaboration projects.

Key points:

  • China’s box office on track to eclipse US
  • World’s biggest studio development nearing completion in city of Dalian
  • Australia and China soon to mark 10 years of film cooperation

The initiative launched by the Australian Academy for Film and Television Arts (AACTA) was announced at the Shanghai International Film festival.

China’s box office is this year on track to eclipse the US for the first time despite a recent lull, and Australian producers are hoping to build on a growing number of co-productions.

“China itself has more cinema screens than any other country in the world,” AACTA chief executive officer Damien Trewhella said.

“It overtook the US last year, and there are dozens of new cinema screens appearing every day.

“There are some similar trends happening in Indonesia, the Philippines and other emerging countries.”

Until last year, China’s film industry had been expanding at a rapid rate.

A slowdown in ticket sales that continued into the start of this year has not dampened the enthusiasm of the country’s film production studios.

The world’s biggest studio development is nearing completion in the city of Dalian.

The company that runs it, Wanda, has bought Hoyts cinemas in Australia, as well as cinema chains across America and Europe, plus a massive US production studio — Legendary Entertainment.

Others like the e-commerce giant Alibaba are also investing heavily, as China’s Communist Party urges filmmakers to tell China’s story to the world.

“The gross [value] of the 200 Asian films released commercially in Australia last year out-grossed the total of Australian films released in Australia last year,” said actor Rachel Griffiths, who was in Shanghai for the announcement.”

“They’re really interesting numbers, so I think this award really is the beginning of a conversation, of film forums, of production conversations.”

Hollywood targets growing Chinese market

Australia and China will soon mark 10 years since a film cooperation treaty was signed to encourage co-productions.

While early on, some films blended Australian and Chinese storylines, the co-productions now mostly involve Chinese studios filming or producing Chinese movies in Australia.

But Australian-made films have also penetrated the Chinese market in other ways, such as the Mel Gibson-directed Hacksaw Ridge, which enjoyed an $80 million box office run in China earlier this year.

Hollywood is also increasingly targeting the growing market, tailoring storylines to both Chinese audiences and the government censors who tightly control what gets screened in China.

“I think it’s always a mistake to tailor a film to a market,” said actor Sam Neill, who also attended the festival in Shanghai.

“A film should have its own authenticity and its own validity.

“When a story is authentic, that’s what travels.”

There are signs that distinctively Australian stories may be finding a way on to China’s silver screen, with the Australian production Lion starting a cinema run this week.

The AACTA Best Asian Film award will be presented at the AFI-AACTA awards in Sydney in December.

By China correspondent Bill Birtles
The World Today


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